You need 10 minutes! Not 5, not 15, not 7

What follow is just my opinion….Well duh, it’s a blog, of course it’s just my opinion, but I’ll try back up my rantings and pontificating with some reasoned arguments. Whether at the end of it, you still call my claims total BS is of course entirely within your rights and your opinion πŸ™‚

I’ve just completed a number of conference days as part of the APAC Groundbreakers tour. All of them were successful and rewarding events. My compliments, congratulations and thanks to the various organizers in each of the locations – it was a pleasure to be involved with them.

But it is interesting to see how different organizers approach the task of scheduling in different ways.

Now before I go any further let me set one thing straight – the length of the session does not really matter, if you have capable speakers. Of course, every speaker would probably prefer 50 mins over 40, and 60 over 50 and so so forth. But in reality, as long as we know the expected length of the session, we can always tailor our content to meet that requirement. We simply adjust our mindset from “quick tip” to “overview session” to “detailed session” to “workshop” etc etc. It is not that hard to cut or add content to a presentation.

But what I do want to talk about is the gap between sessions. Here is where I’m going lay it out nice and simple πŸ™‚

Ten minutes is the sweet spot.

Here’s what I’ve experienced in the past few months at various events around the world

0 minutes

No, I’m not kidding. The first talk finishes as (say) 10am, and the next talk starts at 10am! How anyone could possibly think this could ever work is beyond me. Somehow the two speakers involved will be exchanging positions on stage, and switching microphones, connecting laptops to AV equipment all in a nanosecond and seamlessly heading from one session into the next. It’s comical.

But let’s assume just a moment, that in some mythical land where pixies and fairies exist, that this transition could be achieved in just a few seconds. It is still a ridiculous proposition – because now the attendees have no time to change to a different room if they had planned to. Even if the event is a single stream, it is still just as ridiculous because no attendee can both do the necessary context switch in terms of digesting content from the first session straight into the second, and similarly, very few people have the mental fortitude to continuously absorb content hour after hour without a break and expect to get any real tangible benefit from any of the sessions.

What ultimately happens is the session invariably start and run later and later over their allocated time slot, and then you have terrible situation of attendees not knowing what time sessions later in the day will really commence, when they will truly finish and concurrent sessions get out of alignment making everything just break down into a giant mess.

Just don’t ever do this πŸ™‚

5 mins

Is pushing it. Think about it for a second – if the first speaker runs just 1 min over their allotment, which is only a 1-2% error on their part in terms of timing, you’ve just sucked up 20% of the switch over time. What if there is a problem with the HDMI or VGA cable for the next speaker? What if they need grab an audio technician? What if an attendee wants to come up after the session for quick question, or a selfie or similar? All of that pretty much goes out the window once you’re limiting switch over to 5mins. Everything has to run perfectly all day long for this to work. That’s a big ask.

10mins

10mins is the sweet spot. It gives the necessary down time for attendees to mentally take a quick break. It gives them time to easily switch between sessions, or grab a toilet break if they need. It removes much of the stress of switch over for speakers, but is still short enough for both organizers and attendees not to feel that there time and/or money is being wasted on dead space during the day.

15 mins

Is a coffee break πŸ™‚

It can work, and is next best option after 10mins, especially if you are running 45min sessions because the scheduling then neatly rounds to the hour. And if you are running a massive event, with 100s or 1000s of attendees in sessions, then this falls back to being equivalent the arguments I’ve made for the 10min duration.

But for smaller events, 15mins can be just a bit too long for attendees to stay engaged with the event. They’ll grab a coffee and then often feel awkward about coming back into the sessions 5 mins late, and thus skip it entirely rather than be “that person” that walks in late. (Pro Tip – we speakers don’t really mind if you come in late, as long as you’re polite about it)
So that’s my thoughts on running sessions for an event. Make them as long or as short as you like, but keep that 10min switch over time. It’s the best.

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