Anyone who has worked on a corporate or personal speaker program – heck, anyone who has attended conferences recently – has likely noticed a trend in the length of sessions on the agenda. Session times are shrinking. This is one of the by-products of what I call the TEDification of events. TED Conference has influenced the conference industry in a number of ways but the most apparent of these is the shorted conference session.  The TED influence combined with our increasingly digital lifestyles which promote the “soundbite culture” and help appease our limited attention spans, means that you rarely find a conference session longer than 30 minutes and many that are between 15 – 20 minutes in length.

You may consider this trend to be positive if you are a conference attendee. You certainly won’t be bored at an event. And even if you are stuck watching a really mundane speaker, you only need to wait a few more minutes and he or she will be off the stage!

As a speaker, or someone running a speaker program for your company, however, the shrinking session time slot can pose a challenging question: Should an executive travel to a conference for less stage time than it takes to wait in  line at Starbucks?  It the visibility for the brand worth the time out of the office?

One of the reasons that this question is so difficult to answer, is because there is not one clear answer.  The choice to attend an event or accept a speaking opportunity must be weighed in relation to several factors:

  • The quality and quantity of the audience.
  • Whether the opportunity is one that is necessary for building the speaker’s speaking resume or the company’s credibility in a particular market.
  • The difficulty or length of travel to the conference.
  • The difficulty in getting accepted to that particular conference.

Remember that people are clamoring to speak at TED, which receives more than 25,000 speaker suggestions per year.  And those sessions are not longer than 18 minutes!

Whatever you decide, one thing that can make the process much easier is to investigate the type/length of speaking sessions available before you make a speaker submission. Review last year’s agenda or reach out to the conference organizer, if necessary, to determine the average session length.  Review the speaker guidelines which are often available before you complete a CFP or make a speaker submission.  If you can obtain this information, have a frank discussion with the potential speaker to manage their expectations.  Remind them that this is an industry trend that is not likely to reverse course any time soon.