The 18 Minute Rule

This week I’ve been thinking about those TED talks again. 18 minutes, and in some cases at TEDx, 13 minutes. Deliberately chosen to meet today’s concentration levels.

And so I am seriously wondering why so many conferences continue to have speakers on for 40, 60 or even 90 minutes.

As a professional speaker I know how hard it is to create an engaging, compelling talk that holds audience interest. A great talk can easily take 80 hours of prep.

Imagine then the business speaker from industry, whose day job it is not to speak in public, but is expected to present regularly. You’ve given her a 60 minute time slot. And she doesn’t have at her fingertips all the tools and experience that a professional speaker has. So she pulls it together as best she can but no way can put in the hours and hours it takes to create a captivating, connected talk. And you wonder why you get average feedback.

I’m calling for shorter speaker sessions. TED’S proved it. Let’s make them 18 minutes. And here’s the reasons why. Not only will it allow the audience to stay connected but importantly, it will make the speaker really hone their message. It will make them get to the point. From a speaker’s point of view it is WAY harder to create a shorter speech. You have to ensure your message is really tight.

This quote seems to be attributed to a number of people but Woodrow Wilson comes up most frequently. The story goes that someone asked him how long it took to prepare a speech.

“That depends on the length of the speech”, replied the President. “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour and I can talk as long as I want, I am ready now.”

Now I hear you PCO’s and event planners protesting that means more speakers and higher budgets. Not so, my friends. Make your speakers work for their money. Create a short talk – 18 minutes or less, followed by an optional workshop of 60 minutes, extended to both industry and paid conference speakers.

I spoke at the MEA (Meetings & Events Australia) conference in Kuala Lumpur a few years back where they used a refreshing format. They had 3 speakers present for 10 minutes each after which the audience followed the speaker of their choice for a 90 minute workshop. In 10 minutes I had to tease out a tasty enough morsel that people would come to my session. Imagine if you had an empty workshop! (Ego alert). This made me focus singularly on my core message and had the added benefit of keeping the audience engaged.

Let’s have more dynamic meetings. Try the 18 Minute Rule, and make sure you have a good MC with a hook ready to drag the garrulous offstage.

Lynne Schinella is a conference speaker, speaker coach, and author of Bite Me!and other do’s and don’ts of dealing with our differences.

If you’re ready to take on the world, there are limited spots left on her speaker retreat in QLD for executive women here.

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