Don’t Let Them Fall Asleep. How Long Should Your Presentation Take?

The short answer is: exactly as long as your audience is willing to listen. In this article you’ll find also a bit longer answer ...

Don’t let them fall asleep. How long should your presentation take?

The short answer is: exactly as long as your audience is willing to listen. In this article you’ll find also a bit longer answer that you might benefit you no matter if you’re preparing for an internal company meeting or putting together a supporting slides your business partner or potential client.

Before we get into the mysteries of timing your presentation right, let me start with the most important rule of every presentation: defining your key take-away point. As simple as it may sound, it might get pretty complicated. In the real life, you probably might want to address many questions, highlight number of benefits & clearly articulate everything you believe is important.

A Quick Excercise

Let’s do a quick exercise. Pause for a moment and try to think about those speakers you like to watch. Maybe you saw them on TED talk or it very well might be a presentation from a local event. No matter who it was, pick one and try to remember what was his or her key message. You got it? The point is, it is very doable and chances are, you can summarize a 30 minute presentation into a one simple sentence.

Ask yourself what it is in your case. If you could deliver just a single message what, would you say? Once you have this single statement well defined, you are able to see that everything else coming to the scene only to support this one message. Don’t complicate it with more messages as your audience will leave confused without getting your point.

So How Long?

Alright, back to the original question. To be honest, there is no officially approved one-size-fits-all number, as every occasion is slightly different and topics & audience vary. But if you need a reference point you can adhere to, try to target 20 minutes. Few topics at very occasions really need more time and even fewer audiences are willing to actively participate in longer presentations as people’s attention span decreases with time rapidly.

If your topic absolutely needs presentation to be longer what about breaking it into blocks with a short break between them? Or how about separating those blocks with a Q&A sessions, interactive parts etc. (ideally you want your whole presentation to be an interactive session instead of a monotone monologue). Don’t forget to introduce each block and repeat a key takeaway few times.

Keep in mind, even the greatest topic supported by awesome deck of slides in front of ideal audience might be ruined by boring speaker. How you present is even more important than what the topic is. Always show enthusiasm, passion, be present and react to the people.

And don’t forget to enjoy it.

Secret tip: announce upfront that your presentation will take a couple of minutes longer then it will because once you finish few minutes earlier your audience will be pleased with some more time to refresh.

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