Turns out, Boring Speakers Talk Longer!

I just had a discussion with Elaine Orler, the new incoming Chair for the Recruiting Trends and Talent Tech Conference, taking place in February in Las Vegas. I’m pretty excited about it because Elaine, the team at LRP who produces the conference, are really pushing the envelope when it comes to conference content.

Elaine isn’t the only one, but she’s really pushing it to the next level, Recruiting Trends is going to be amazing this year! I can’t wait to speak at that conference!

I’ve also had similar conversations with Steve Boese, who chairs The HR Technology Conference, who this past year did an HR tech startup Pitchfest in the middle of the expo hall that was amazing! SHRM’s, Letty Kluttz, is pushing a very traditional conference team out of their comfort zone, and you’ll see some new amazing content streams at SHRM Talent and SHRM National this next year, as well!

The LinkedIn Talent Connect team tested “Silent Disco” talks at this year’s event, and it was fascinating to watch and do one! As a speaker, the Silent Disco talk might have been one of the biggest challenges I’ve had in recent years! Shannon Pritchett over at SourceCon also has shorter keynotes and sessions, really trying to get to the meat of the content and less fluff.

So, why all of a sudden are conferences breaking up the traditional conference content flow?

For decades I think we all had a hard time imagining conferences in a new way. Most followed, and still follow, a basic format of: full group morning keynote, followed by hour-long sessions throughout the day, followed by afternoon day-closing keynote. Most of the design was directed by the continuing education community, which is why most conferences started.

You need one credit per session and those sessions need to be at least one hour of ‘training’ or education.

Then TEDx came around and people had 18 minutes to produce some of the most amazing content any of us had ever seen! DisruptHR-like events sprung up and we got to see great content happen in 5 minutes! Many people started wondering, why the heck are we sitting here for one hour listening to people drone on endlessly when they could tell us all of this in half the time!?

There was a recent small study done around this concept. A researcher went to a conference an sat in 50 sessions. Within four minutes he made the decision was this content boring or not. Based on that he also looked at the time the speaker went over or under their time, and his data showed him that boring speakers were more likely to go over their allotted time!

“For every 70 seconds that a speaker droned on (over their allotted time), the odds that their talk had been boring doubled.” 

So, if you ever sat in a boring session and thought, “Oh my, this is so boring and it’s taking forever!” You’re right! The boring stuff does take longer!

As a speaker, all of these changes that conferences are making and testing are really exciting. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 12 months with some of these new content configurations that are being tested:

The shorter amount of time you have to speak, the more time it takes to prepare really great content! Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Should be harder the longer you have, but it’s not. If you have a short amount of time, your talk has to be really tight and practiced. If you have a long time, as a speaker, you can wander around and come back to things.

Shorter segments of live content that are good, are much deeper and less wide. The best short range content goes really deep on one item, not surface level on many items.

The audience pays closer attention to shorter content. If you have an audience for an hour or more, they tend to come in and out. If you have them for 20 minutes, you are more likely to have them the full time, which means, they’re more likely to call you out if you try and slide some B.S. by them!

Most non-speaker, speakers, really struggle with short content. Most speakers at a conference aren’t professional speakers, they’re practitioners. They need more time, not less, because they aren’t on stage enough to practice short, tight sets of content. So, they’re more likely to fail doing short sessions.

Get ready for some exciting conferences in 2019! Conference producers are really working to change things up and keep modern attendees engaged with the content at conferences, and I personally love the challenge and the changes! If you’re building our budget for 2019 make sure you try and hit one of the conferences listed above in 2019, you’ll definitely get some amazing takeaways!

2 thoughts on “Turns out, Boring Speakers Talk Longer!

  1. I’d say 70% of allotted time should be covered content, 30% Q&A. Q&A from the audience to help answer questions about the content presented for clarity, or to ask for advice on the topic is great. People sitting up having a talk and leaving at the end of the session literally leaves every question the audience may have unanswered. As an audience member I enjoy the ability to ask questions. As a presenter I love it to see if the content resonated or if someone wants help understanding how they should apply it within their own organizations. It’s fulfilling to know it was relevant to the audience and resonated.

  2. Tim, I don’t disagree with the logic, but I do disagree with the execution. I love the ability to get to the point in a presentation. However, my experience is that conference organizers are more interested in a bam, bam, bam, approach of getting speakers up on the stage in a rapid fire succession, leaving no time to questions or meaningful discussion. I wish they would leave more time for that.

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