Meeting Presentations: How Short Is Too Short?

FrustratedWith companies reducing the amount of time they want employees to be away from the job, the length of meetings has been trending downward for over a decade. This combined with the short attention spans of adult learners has resulted in a drastic reduction in the time allocated for meeting and conference presentations.

Enter short presentation formats including:

  • Pecha Kucha (6-minute, 40-second presentations using 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each)
  • Ignite (5-minute presentations with 20 slides displayed for 15 seconds each)
  • TED Talks (18-minute presentations presented in an engaging manner, sometimes using props)
  • Lightning Talks (a 5- to 10-minute presentation format)

While these formats can be used with impact when time is at a premium, more and more meeting designs with short presentations are on their way to becoming the rule rather than the exception. As a result, 1-hour agenda slots that used to be allocated to a single speaker are being divvied up among 3 and even 4 speakers.

There are several challenges when short presentations become the norm:

  • some topics are complex and simply can't be covered in a tight timeframe
  • a short timeframe makes it challenging to cover topics in depth
  • it is frustrating for speakers to try to pack content into an unrealistic timeframe
  • short back-to-back presentations leave little room for set-up and transitions with the result that speakers can come across as unprepared (especially if there has been no time to test audio-visual)
  • an agenda packed with short talks becomes a series of 1-way lecture with little opportunity for participant engagement or questions
  • analytical learners and introverts don't have enough "thinking time" to process the information that is presented
  • speakers often come across poorly by watering down presentation content to the point that little of value is presented or cramming so much information into a short timeframe that presentations are rushed and the speakers come across as disorganized

When time is tight, here are some tips for presenting content that satisfy the audience without setting unrealistic expectations for speakers:

  • Go for quality rather than quantity by reducing the number of topics covered and giving each speaker more time.
  • Offer more concurrent sessions and give attendees the opportunity to select build a customized agenda consisting of content that is of greatest value.
  • To expose participants to a broad range of topics, use the short formats to present previews of the concurrent session so that participants can determine the breakout session from which they are likely to derive the most benefit.
  • reduce the scope of the topics to content that can realistically be covered in a tight timeframe.
  • Assign 1-hour time blocks to speakers but ask them to present content in a 15- to 20-minute sound bite followed by a short exercise that involves participant engagement in pairs, trios or small groups, and a question period. To cover a topic in more depth without having participants become restless, repeat the cycle if the content is complex and requires more time.

Never pre-determine the presentation format before selecting content. The content should shape the presentation format and meeting design, not the reverse. While it is important to experiment with new meeting and presentation formats, event planners should never just jump on the bandwagon and adopt a "flavor of the month" approach to meeting design.

Consult Tips for Facilitating Meetings and Presenting Content When the Time-frame is Too Tight and 17 Tips for Designing Shorter Meetings Without Short-Changing Attendees on the Cvent Event Blog.

Photo Credit: marsmet473a

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