Of course, these are ‘how long should a piece of string be?’ questions.
You should really start by asking: ‘What do you want to achieve with your speech?’
It’s a fact. Too many potentially excellent presentations are ruined by speakers who feel compelled to speak for longer than necessary.
And who can blame an audience whose attention wanders in the face of boring speeches?
“When a sermon at length comes to an end, people rise and praise God, and they feel the same way after many other speeches!”, John Andrew Holmes
So, what’s a body to do?
Look after your audiences’ needs to earn and keep attention
What’s the point of your speech?
To share ideas that engage your audience, are memorable and encourage attendees to do something after you sit down, start with this is mind.
What do you need to do to make this possible? Worry about time later.
As you think about this, understand that getting and keeping your audience’s attention is critical if you want to accomplish anything.
And while there is still much to be learned about the science of attention – one thing is certain, once you move beyond satisfying an audience’s threshold for logic supporting arguments you make…
…you need to engage your audiences emotionally if you want them to stay focused for longer and remember what you say.
Because, it’s easier for your audience to heed and remember things they can feel and visualize.
What’s the 10 minute rule and how does it affect audience attention?
While there’s no hard and fast rule on how long a speaker can hold an audience’s attention – there’s a generally accepted rule amongst speakers and lecturers…
…if you speak for longer than 10 minutes, you’ll likely exhaust your audiences’ attention spans and start to see glazed expressions looking back at you (or elsewhere)!
So, if you can achieve what you want for your audience in less than 10 minutes – great, you’ll do your audience and yourself a great favour. Everyone will likely feel better for the experience.
But if you’re expected to speak for 20, 30, 45 or even 60 minutes – what now?
I quite like the John Medina, author of Brain Rules, take on this. He argues that breaking a speech into a collection of discrete 10 minute segments is a good way to go. And he describes his approach to giving lectures as follows:
“Each segment covers a single core concept – always large, always general, always filled with ‘gist’, and always explainable in one minute.”
Use emotional jump leads to capture and regain attention
He quite rightly says, he has to recapture his audience’s attention after every ten minutes and earn the right to be heard for another 600 seconds.
How? With emotional jump leads.
Come up with new hooks for each segment of your speech – which you use to jump start your audience by tapping afresh into their emotions and helping them to feel something. Keep reinvigorating your audience.
Stories that have a point are a great way to accomplish this.
FYI – Without emotional jump leads every now and then, there’s a good chance your audience will check out and as a peer in the US likes to say ‘take a mental voyage on which you, the speaker, are not invited’.
And the longer your audience is not focused on what you say, the more likely they won’t remember what they heard before zoning out.
Caveat: Don’t ask your audience to multi-task
But beware – as mentioned in previous articles – limit yourself to just one central theme for a speech, regardless of how long you speak for.
Don’t ask your audience to multi-task by remembering too many things. They can’t and won’t remember multiple messages.
So, if you’re speaking for more than 10 minutes…
…make sure each segment to your speech is related and builds logically from what you’ve said before – reinforcing, developing and complementing what you want your audience to take from your speech.
Over to You
What approaches have you used to gain and keep your audiences’ attention?
What has worked for you and what lessons have you learned?