If you are giving an average speech, not amazing or incredibly exciting, but not too terribly boring, how long do you think it takes before your audience starts to lose interest and wonder how much longer you’ll be speaking?
Did you say 30 minutes? 20? 10? According to John Medina, in his book, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving and Work, Home, and School, your audience will check out after 10 minutes. That’s when you lose their attention. Just 600 seconds.
The 10 Minute Barrier
So you can’t just keep going. You can’t plow through and hope they’ll re-engage. You have to be intentional in designing your talk so that you “re-hook” them every ten minutes. You have to earn their attention again and again and again. Every 10 minutes. Every 600 seconds.
Medina tells us that better attention always equals better learning. It improves retention. It helps things stick. So think of your speech in modules. Plan your speech in ten minute segments. Medina tells us we need to do something after the 601st second to “buy” another ten minutes.
So what do we need to give our audiences in that moment? Definitely not more of the same kind of information we were giving them. Definitely not some irrelevant anecdote or joke that will make our talk seem disjointed. We need to re-engage them.
We need to provide something “so compelling that they blast through the 10-minute barrier and move on to new ground-something that triggers an orienting response toward the speaker… allowing efficient learning.” We need to give them what Medina calls “ECS – emotionally competent stimuli.”
What does that mean? That means that we have to trigger an emotion. We have to hook them to our material. Client stories, relevant anecdotes, gripping personal experience stories, a compelling visual, clear examples that trigger an emotional response… all of these are “re-engagers.” Any emotion will do. It could be fear, joy, laughter, hope, happiness, sadness–or any from the entire range of human emotions.
So do you have to do this every ten minutes? Medina found that if he’d done this two or three times in a one hour talk, he could skip the fourth and fifth ones and still keep the audience fully engaged.
So as you prepare your next talk, think about that ten minute point, and what you’ll do to “earn” the next ten minutes.