After a presentation, many of us have said, “There was a lot of information that just wasn’t necessary.” Research in the U.K. conducted by Opinion Matters for Epson and supported by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that workers waste two hours and 39 minutes in meetings every week.
Parkinson’s Law is the culprit for this wasted time. The law loosely states the amount of time provided to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task. When a manager is asked to provide a 30-minute update on a project during a team meeting, it tends to take at least 30 minutes, regardless of whether the full 30 is truly needed.
Why does this happen? The simple answer is laziness. People tend to provide too much information when presenting because a presentation with a wealth of information is actually easier to construct (we call this the “show up and throw up approach” to presenting). George Bernard Shaw once said, “Sorry for the letter, I didn’t have time to write a postcard.” He knew it would take him more time to be concise. When you don’t dedicate the time to think about how you will structure a presentation or what content you will deliver, you can create a presentation faster but your delivery will be longer than necessary.
What is the solution? From our experience with thousands of attendees at iSpeak workshops, we have found that nine minutes is an ideal length for delivering a presentation targeting a basic understanding for the audience. It is perfect for a brief project update at a team meeting, an initial sales conversation with prospective client, or a cost-savings proposal to upper management.
A great example of shorter presentations can be seen at TED conferences, where the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers are challenged to give the talk of their lives. A popular format length at the conference is nine minutes.
A nine-minute presentation does not work for every situation. Understanding your purpose, your audience, and the key concepts you need to communicate will help you decide if a nine-minute presentation is right for your situation.
We are all busy people and time is precious. If you are speaking at a team meeting with seven participants, you are potentially costing your co-workers and your company hours of lost productivity. A nine-minute presentation will help you focus on what the entire team needs to know about your project — not just a data dump of everything you know about the project. You can always answer questions after the presentation or schedule a follow-up meeting with the interested individuals.
There is another reason why we recommend only nine minutes. While audience lapse of attention can be as frequent as every two minutes in lengthy presentations, research by Neil Vidyarthi (“Attention Spans Have Dropped from 12 Minutes to 5 Minutes — How Social Media Is Ruining Our Minds”) and Diane M. Bunce, et al (“How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class? A Study of Student Attention Decline”), shows that you will only need to deal with one serious lapse of audience attention about halfway through a nine-minute presentation.
You can address that lapse with a well-constructed presentation body that incorporates engaging interactions throughout. When you develop your presentation, limit your main points to three items — any more than three and both attention and retention suffer. The structure of your presentation is critical. Without a well-designed structure, your audience won’t be able to follow you. If your audience does not connect with something in your message, they will check out and connect somewhere else, usually with their smartphone.
A few of the techniques we use to engage and connect with our audiences include asking questions, telling stories, and sharing personal examples.
Now, putting together a nine-minute presentation can take longer than delivering by just throwing in as much information as possible. Quality takes time. But consider this: While it may take you longer to prepare a concise message, your audience will appreciate it more because you get to the point and save them time.
Start a movement at your organization and adopt the nine-minute presentation style today. We can all put an end to costly and boring presentations.