Why No Speech Should Last More than 20 Minutes — and How I Learned This (Again!)

Last week I gave a leadership talk at the MAPP Benchmarking Conference. I prepared and rehearsed my talk, but I did not like how the talk was received. What follows is an honest self-appraisal. I reflect out of the hunger to improve, but that process would not necessitate me blogging about it. I am sharing my reflection publicly to model one way of reflecting to other leaders. I do this by asking myself three questions:

What did I do well? 

I liked the energy that I brought. I was willing to be vulnerable in the beginning of my talk by talking about how I had lost my way earlier in 2021. For example, I shared that my doctor had me consider taking antidepressants at one point. This connected with the audience (measured by the instant feedback I received after the talk was over, and the messages I received later). I also was prepared. 

What did I learn? 

My talk was not as effective as I hoped because it was way too long. Instead of sticking to my belief that no talk I give should be more than 20 minutes, I expanded it to 40 minutes. While this was to fill the time allotted, I learned (again!) that the audience could not stay with me for all 40 minutes. A 40 minute time slot is probably best suited for world-class speakers like John Maxwell! Regardless of who is speaking, the speaker should aim to get off stage five minutes too early, rather than five minutes too late. I was about 15 minutes too late. 

What will I do with what I learned? 

This was my first LIVE talk since pre-Covid. Therefore, this lesson was somewhat necessary as it reminded me of how I can be at my best going forward. To that end, I will embrace my TED learnings by limiting talks to as close to 20 minutes as possible. For example, I could have filled the 45 minute time slot with a Q&A, or simply allowed attendees time to get caught up on their own work. After all, my goal was to encourage them and serve them (rather than show up and give some kind of commercial about our company or myself). In the future, I will do a better job of that. 

Note to the reader: I do not know who deserves credit for the questions I used above. I first heard them from golfer Ben Crane. He used (perhaps still uses) them to appraise a competitive round of golf. I have found them helpful for appraising all kinds of performance. That said, my encouragement to use is to simply reflect in one way or another.