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Virtual events don’t require your audience to travel—which is excellent news for potential reach, but grim information regarding the competition you will face. As a speaker, you need to plan your virtual deliveries to be shorter and requiring more extended preparations than their physical siblings. I have found a 50% decrease in delivery time and a 5X increase in preparation time to be a good starting point for virtual sessions.
Visualize yourself at a vibrant short-film festival
Virtual events have a lot in common with film festivals. The products show up on a screen, the competition to get selected is brutal, and there is plenty to choose from at the festival. Your audience doesn’t have the time to binge-watch full-length feature films, but a film festival for short movies is a good approximation of your target. Look at short film festivals, virtual TED talks, and “America’s Got Talent” for inspiration.
Your success depends on making it easy for your audience to both select and to watch your session. Before and during the event, your virtual trailers are essential to bringing the audience to your session. During the session, you need to keep your audience engaged during the whole session. You just a mouse click away from the zapping moment you always want to avoid.
Digital audiences are volatile and easy to lose
Defining the virtual sessions’ optimal lengths is a central question discussed by event teams and speakers now. TED talks are limited to 18 minutes. Guidelines for teachers suggest students’ attention drop off after 10-15 minutes.
It is hard to find proven facts regarding attention spans for live speeches, and I will use the suggestions above as a baseline and argue why virtual attention spans are shorter than their physical peers:
- Your target audience has a broad selection of virtual events/sessions to choose from on already busy days.
- Virtual events are often free, reducing the barrier to join but also the barrier to leave.
- Your audience is triple/quadruple tasking – listen to you, classic multi-tasking with mail, and remote working disturbances from barking dogs and young students requiring attention at home.
- Gradually shrinking attention spans in social media affect all forms of digital delivery forms.
Based on these observations, I suggest you aim for virtual deliveries in half the time you target when delivering to an in-person audience.
Take inspiration from executive conferences
Virtual audiences are more like Executive audiences, shorter time dedicated to a complete conference program, and higher expectations for on-point deliveries. A full schedule in 60-90 minutes is not uncommon. Each speaker gets less than ten minutes to get their points across.
One of my most demanding short speeches was a 5-minute keynote session, delivered as part of a 75-minute program on a gala dinner. The 400 people in the audience were executives and senior government officials. When facing a similar challenge, ask yourself how much an audience can capture in 5 minutes? It is less than you think, and aim for two key points or maybe three if you get an 8-10 minute window to use. I often revert to this in-person experience when planning my virtual deliveries.
Enablers to cut your delivery time in half
Each speaker at a TED event gets up to 18 minutes of stage time, thanks to significant pre-screening eliminating all but a few speakers. To deliver your messages in a short time frame, you can consider a few of the following tricks:
- Build stories focused on one specific topic
- Develop succinct talking points, metaphors, and numbers that are powerful when deployed strategically.
- Aim for well-scripted and well-rehearsed sessions, a key to fit narrow delivery windows.
- Plant attention-grabbing one-liners in your script.
- Skip slides and let your personality play a vital role in the delivery.
Find a suitable virtual flight seat for preparation work
Virtual speakers miss the alone time in a flight seat on the way to a conference or customer meeting—the perfect uninterrupted rehearsal time before entering the stage. As if it was not enough, the preparation time required for virtual deliveries is longer and starts earlier.
For a 6-week event planning window, I plan for all virtual speech action in the first three weeks of the cycle:
- Define script, select target format, and confirmation of speakers.
- Refine script, find a recording spot, and dress rehearsals in front of own PC.
- Practice, practice, and practice. Connect and test your tech. Lights, Camera, and Action!
As long as you plan for all action upfront and allocate 5X preparation time, you will secure a stellar delivery. I use my virtual commutes, i.e. daily morning walks in the neighborhood, for defining/refining scripts and for presenting to myself as I walk. With the time invested in staring at the camera for my practice sessions, this routine is vital for me to feel ready at recording time. I am now at a point where I have compensated for the lack of flying time for delivery preparations.
Questions for you and your team
- How long should our virtual event be? – compared to a similar in-person event.
- How long do we want each module to be? – overall program broken down into suitable lengths per theme and topic.
- What do you do as a speaker to deliver in half the time? – not a science but a reality you need to be ready to face.
- How much longer will preparations take? – what you save by not traveling is eaten up by other preparation work.
- What is a virtual flight in your world? – uninterrupted time you can use for preparing virtual speeches.
Additional reading suggestions
- The 49 best short films of all times that every filmmaker can learn from [BLOGPOST] – by Herman Wilkens
- How long should your short film be for a festival [BLOGPOST] – by Grant Harvey
- How long should your presentation be [VIDEO] – by TJ Walker
- How long should your talk be? Shorter than you think [ARTICLE] – by David Nihill
- 10 tips for giving effective virtual presentations [ARTICLE] – by Matt Abrahams
- 7 tips for the 7-minute attention span [BLOGPOST] – by 2Connect
- The 2018 state of attention [INFOGRAPHIC] – Chelsi Nakano
- The 20-minute rule for great public speaking – on attention spans and keeping focus [BLOGPOST] – by Alf Rehn
- Average speaking rates and words per minute [BLOGPOST] – by Dom Barnard
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