August 4, 2021 | By Warwick Merry

One thing we have realised moving to virtual and hybrid events is that a 90-minute keynote is way too long. Even 60 minutes is stretching the friendship. It is harder than ever to grab, and hold, a delegate’s attention than ever before. Long keynotes full of rambling stories are not the way to do it.

In an action-packed work environment full of distractions and demands, keynote presentations need to stay under 37 minutes. Here’s why:

It’s not about you

You may not have noticed, but some speakers have a generous ego. Some of them even forget they have an audience. Put them online where there is no instant feedback and it is like they are starving.

Don’t get me wrong, speakers are amazing, with great skills and experiences, but our events are about our delegates. What have you, as a speaker, got for us? What easy to implement ideas can you give us? What massive mistakes have you made that we can avoid? How can you inspire us in a way that we still feel great in three weeks?

Focus on us, the delegates, and give us three or four things we can do and that is enough. We don’t need a detailed life story, your manifesto or endless ramblings. Get on stage, give us the goods and then get off.

Who are you?

Tell a speaker they have 40 minutes and they will fill it. But we need to know who you are and to thank you for being here. Two minutes is more than enough to introduce your topic and your “right to speak”. One minute is more than enough to say thank you.

So, make sure your speaker has taken these three minutes into account.

TED Talks ruined long speeches

Some speakers insist that they MUST have their 60 or 90 minutes or it won’t be the same. TED Talks ruined them. An 18-minute maximum length meant that great ideas, examples, stories and designs are presented in concise little nuggets. The audience loves them.

Keynotes are very different to TED talks with different purposes and different outcomes. But their time limits have proven that you can communicate these ideas and examples in a powerful and concise manner. Why wouldn’t we want the same for our delegates?

Less is more

The most memorable comics, musicians and house guests are the ones that leave us wanting more. They give us great ideas, laughs and inspiration but we want just a little bit more. They leave before the jokes stop being funny. Before the songs feel repetitive. Before you run out of conversation and they just won’t leave.

It is the same with speakers. We are looking for the Goldilocks presentation. Not too little, not too much, but juuuuust right. Enough ideas to inspire us, but not so many we are overwhelmed. Enough stories of amazing achievements to get excited, but not so many that the speaker feels different to us so we can’t achieve like that.

Show us your humanity so we can relate and go with you on the journey and not feel left behind.

I am on the phone

Never forget, at every event now, your delegates will be on the phone – or a second screen if they are virtual. The longer the session, the more likely they will be on their phone looking at emails, sales funnels and Facebook. Short sharp sessions have the delegates tweeting quotes, sending messages via the event app, sharing their experiences with other delegates.

Our delegates no longer want an event done to them. They want it done with them. So don’t ask them to get off their phone. Direct them how to use it and take advantage of it. Get them involved and engaged with the other delegates in the room and online.

On topic, on time, all the time

Shorter and more powerful sessions mean that as event professionals, we are better able to keep things on topic, on time and on point. Regardless of whether you have a professional speaker or an industry expert, keeping their time to 37 minutes (or less) will lead to a far better event for you, your delegates and your speakers.

Warwick Merry is a certified speaking professional, dual certified virtual presenter and past national president of Professional Speakers Australia. He hosts and produces online events globally.