21 September 2015

The Ideal Length Of Any Presentation

No matter what your topic is, the ideal length of any presentation ranges from 10 to 20 minutes at most. 

Take TED. Given that their talks are watched about 2 million times per day, I guess we should ask ourselves what makes them so special. One of the reasons is the length of the talks. Regardless of who you are, TED doesn't allow you to speak for more than 18 minutes. Yes, even Bill Gates has to comply to this rule. 

If you think about it, 18 minutes are more than enough to present your topic. They are enough to change your audience from a state in which they don’t know your topic to a state in which they do. 

TED curator Chris Anderson didn’t choose this time constraint by chance, but rather it was a considered choice. According to him, 

“It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.”   

What is the key point you want to communicate? That’s the question you should always be asking yourself before presenting. You need to make tough decisions about what to include and what to leave out. But if you do this exercise, you can be sure you’ll present only what matters to your audience and leave the rest out. When you feel tempted to include everything, remember that if everything is important, nothing is important. 
If everything is important, 
nothing is important. 

Just like Twitter “forces people to be disciplined in what they write”, the 18-minute rule forces people to be disciplined in what they say. Creativity thrives under constraints. Therefore, limiting the length of your speech to 18 minutes or less promotes creativity. 

I know what you’re thinking. I’m not convinced — how can I say everything I need to say in just 18 minutes? Okay, then consider the following:
Here we are talking about speeches that made history. People made history in 15 minutes. 

Still not convinced? Okay. David Christian narrated the complete history of our world in 18 minutes. If you analyze his speech, he actually took his audience on a 13.7 billion year journey—from the Big Bang to us humans—in about 12 minutes. 12 minutes to go through 13.7 billion years of history. 

Hope I've convinced you now.

IMAGE: Martin L. King via NewNowNext