How do we stop boring conference sessions?

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 a full group morning keynote, followed by hour-long sessions throughout the day, followed by an 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 small study done around this concept. A researcher went to a conference and sat in 50 sessions. Within four minutes, he made the decision was this content was 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! It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? 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 when doing short sessions.

Get ready for some exciting conferences in 2022 and 2023! Conference producers are really working to change things up and keep modern attendees engaged with the content at conferences, most now both in-person and virtual, and I personally love the challenge and the changes! If you’re building our budget for 2023, make sure you try and hit an in-person conference. To me, it’s one of the best ways to sharpen your saw and build a great professional network!

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