Confessions of a Compulsive Conference-Goer: NO NEED FOR CONFERENCE RITALIN

business events logoAndrew writes a monthly column for Business Events News (BEN) called “Confessions of a Compulsive Conference Goer” in which he discusses issues and observations from the conference front-line”
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Andrew Klein, director of SPIKE Presentations, presents his front line observations on conferences in a regular feature in BEN.

MY aim is to keep you interested in this article till the end. I don’t like my chances.

Research shows that our attention spans are getting shorter. In the age of Twitter and the sound bite, life’s too short to read long articles.

School teachers have developed methods to keep students focused.

Social media communicates in short sharp sound bites. Politicians adapt their campaigns to cater for our short concentration spans. But conferences have been slow to adapt to this change.

Years ago someone decided that a conference presentation should last for around 45 minutes. I’m not sure who – but it sure wasn’t an audience member.

Conference audiences often sit for hours on end, listening to back to back presentations and often after a late night. Perhaps this conference ritalinwould be acceptable if the presentations were stimulating, interactive and engaging. I think we know that is often not the case.

While I’m not convinced audiences could ever pay attention for hours on end, I’m certain that in this day and age, most can’t. Unless you have a captivating speaker, with dynamic stories, videos and interactive elements, it is a task that is bound to fail.

Many audience members these days suffer from what I call ADD (Audience Distraction Disorder), a condition whereby the delegate quickly loses focus and either switches off, nods off or starts checking their emails.

So what can be done?

TED (Technology Entertainment, Design) gives their speakers 18 minutes maximum – long enough to be serious yet short enough to hold people’s attention.

This timing forces speakers to be disciplined in what they include. The many brilliant TED talks are evidence that it’s enough time to inspire, educate and engage an audience.

Lately, perhaps inspired by TED, I’ve noticed some companies insisting presenters give shorter presentations, 20 or 30 minute spots. Or if the presentation must be longer, splitting it into 2 parts delivered with a break, or another presenter in between.

Methods like inserting 5 minute ‘war stories’ from franchisees, video clips, three minute success stories from the sales team or quick sponsor interviews – strategically placed between speakers create variety and a different voice, keeping the agenda moving and the audience engaged.

When it comes to presentation duration, less is more. The most famous speech in history, The Gettysberg Address lasted 2 minutes.

Indeed, when was the last time you heard a delegate say they wished the presentations had been longer?

For those of you who have managed to pay attention long enough to still be reading this article, please pass my key messages on to those with ADD who lost interest after the first paragraph.


© Andrew Klein 2014