Short doesn’t mean unimportant

by Oliver Adria on 09/03/2009


Some people somehow have the ability to make a 90-minute presentation. I think my longest good presentation was 25 minutes. I’ve had some longer presentations, but unless they have an interactive component or a workshop atmosphere, they’re usually quite boring. Even talk show hosts will only have a 10-minute monologue before they will have other elements (such as talking with the band or in the third segment of their show they will conduct an interview).

That’s why I really enjoy the TED format (in case you don’t know TED – Technology Entertainment Design, it’s an exclusive conference where the world’s bright people and entrepreneurs meet) the people who hold talks are asked to keep them within the 18-minute time limit. And I highly agree with that idea, because even though I have a huge interest in the area of sustainability and the environment, I think after 30 minutes even Al Gore will start to become boring to me (it’s not because of Al Gore, it’s my mind that can’t focus intensely for that amount of time). And I think to myself: “If some of the world’s most brilliant people can talk about their world-changing project in 18 minutes, I think I can shorten my presentation as well.”

Maybe your boss allocated 60 minutes for your presentation?? Hmm… why not use 20 minutes for all the important stuff you need to say, and use 20-30 minutes for Q&A with time to spare. Sometimes there might be presentations necessary that take longer than 30 minutes (maybe a quantum physics theory??) but I’d say in 95% of the cases 20-30 minutes will suffice to tell your story and then another 20-30 minutes for Q&A to make the audience part of the presentation experience.

Interesting approaches

One interesting approach is one by Guy Kawasaki who makes a case on his now famous 10 / 20 / 30 post. His 10 / 20 / 30 method basically means that the presentation should not have more than 10 slides, it should not last more than 20 minutes and the font size should not be less than 30 points.

Another very interesting idea are the Pecha Kucha Nights where you have a standardized format of 20 slides and 20 seconds for each slide. So every presentation totals to 6 minutes and 40 seconds. I’ve never been to such an event, but it’s becoming really popular. They will actually host one next week in my city of Cologne, Germany and coincidentally tomorrow they will host one in my hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia. I will join the one next week, because flying 10,000 miles to Jakarta for a Pecha Kucha night is a bit much, I suppose :-) . I will inform you about my experience in one of my next posts. Other similar short-format presentations include Ignite and Lightning Talks.

This all is just to give you an idea that presentations don’t always have to be 75-minute bullet-point-filled readings. On the contrary, presentations can be really awesome and exciting. Even though the 10 / 20 /30 Rule or Pecha Kucha presentations are not suitable for every occasion, just keep in mind the endless possibilities of presentations. And find one that fits you and the occasion.

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