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In speech… there’s “speed”!

“How much time should a good presentation last?” This question comes up frequently but it is not an easy one to answer. And though we would like to be able to quantify an answer we unfortunately cannot. However, it can be said that a good presentation must, in general, be short.

The TED conferences understand this concept and require all speakers to limit their talks to 18 minutes. Though we have already talked about the limitations of the TED format in business, this duration was not chosen at random; it’s long enough to cover most of a topic and short enough to keep the audience’s attention and facilitate recall. Studies show that our memory capacity is as limited (5 to 9 points max) as our attention span (about 15 min).

But depending on habits and corporate cultures, one may be afraid to be succinct. Here are two statements that must be refuted:

Short is easier.
Giving a short speech may seem like good news for lazy people. But, in the majority of cases, it can be a poisoned gift. After all, shortening one’s speech means simplifying, synthesizing choosing and letting some points go. And, like Churchill said so well, all this takes time.

Short is for those who have nothing to say.
When speaking about a topic that fascinates us, it is common to fall into the trap of being an expert; with the pretext that our subject is complex and that we are competent, we tend to flaunt our knowledge and give a complex and endless presentation. Nonetheless, contrary to popular belief, being brief does not mean that we are incompetent, that our subject is uninteresting or that we have nothing to say. Conversely, it means giving ourselves the means to better connect with our audience, in order to make more of an impact and maximize the potential of our intervention.

At the risk of being frustrating, there is no magic formula for determining the length of a presentation. We can both captivate an audience for several hours or bore them to tears in less than 5 minutes! In keeping with the exercise, we can consider that there is no subject sufficiently complex that cannot be presented in 20 minutes max. But in your daily practice, it will be up to you to judge what “short” means depending on the circumstances. If in doubt, make it a little bit shorter!

To read or reread: The right dose of simplicity!

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