Many sales presentations go on for too long. 40 minutes, 60 minutes, or even more isn’t unheard of – even in a prospecting session. How long should a sales presentation be? There’s no definitive answer, and nor can there be.

Audiences are different, sales cycles are different, and content is different. Essentially, you want to cover your key messages in a compelling and persuasive way. You don’t want to lose your audience’s attention. Your sales presentation length needs to be long enough to say what you need to say in a punchy manner – but no longer.

We’ve seen attention spans drawn as a hammock, or a hump, as a straight slope down, and plenty of variations in between. All of these graphics assume there’s a ‘fundamental’ audience attention curve that is the same from presentation to presentation.

But now watch this clip of Bill Gates at TED.

What do you think happened to attention levels in the room?

Do you really think attention levels follow the same curve regardless of what the presenter does?

How would research into ‘natural’ attention levels even work? Would findings about attention levels in boring text-heavy presentations have any weight for dynamic and visual presentations?

We’ve seen presentations that start with slides all about your company history, and structure, and key financials, and client logos.

What do you think happens to attention levels if your first few slides are boring corporate naval-gazing of the most tedious kind?

Yep, they drop off. That doesn’t mean attention levels are always low at the start of a presentation though – they aren’t if something interesting happens.

Don’t let your presentation have a ‘boring bit’. If you think it does, you need to tighten the content.

Don’t save your best content until the end as the audience might have stopped listening before you ever show it. Keep sections relatively short and reasonably spaced – to ensure that attention levels don’t drop off too fast. Interactivity works brilliantly to keep audiences engaged – consider building a visual conversation instead of a one-way presentation. And if you really want to know how long a presentation should be, the right answer is probably “as short as it can be to work”.

Do you need to present for more than 20 minutes? Often not.

Leave a comment
Written by

Joby Blume


View Joby Blume's profile

Related articles

Jul 2024

Sales presentations are the cornerstone of many companies’ sales efforts, yet so often they aren’t given the time and attention they deserve. Thrown together at the last-minute, often your sales reps stand up in front of a sales presentation that's nothing more than a glorified page of notes. Read this article for everything you need to make the ultimate sales presentation.

Jul 2024

Sales presentations are important, but 1000s of people each day ignore the principles of sales presentation design and sales messaging and deliver material that is tired, ugly, and ineffective. These sales presentation ideas will help you to easily improve your sales presentation; stand out, engage your audience, and sell more.

Jul 2024

We exhibited at a large trade exhibition a couple of weeks ago, and I went along to see what other vendors are up to. A lot of exhibitions are a desolate wasteland for exhibitors with nothing but tumbleweed and other vendors to stop the boredom. This show was actually pretty busy though, and by walking around l think I managed to notice things companies were doing (right and wrong). Some of these observations are surprisingly apt for sales presentations too...

  1. Image of Presentia FX Presentia FX says:

    Within presentations, a great way for the presenter engage a more interactive approach with the audience is the use of technology. Simply tablets. More and more people have them. Introducing a shared presentation which in real time can be viewed on tablets while presenters are speaking would increase interactivity and concentration span.

  2. Image of Mark Mark says:

    I know this is coming late, but we are working on a video presentation (to be packaged on DVD.) I my idea is to break it thus: 12 minutes of presenting the problems, the implications of not solving them the right way, and then introduce our software product. Then we cut to the real software screen cast and demonstrate it for 5 minutes, then recap and conclude in two minutes. What do you think? Do you have experience with this and what has worked for you?

    • Image of Joby Blume Joby Blume says:

      If anything, with a video presentation you have less time. Particularly if it’s on a DVD – it’s just too easy for people to stop watching. 19 minutes is probably more time than you have – or at least at the outer-limit. One option is to have a 5-minute version and offer an extended 20-minute version for those who want it. Although I guess it depends on how motivated your audience is to watch in the first place.

      The basic structure you propose is what we would do. Perhaps the only thing to add is that when presenting the problems, it’s important to not sound like you are accusing prospects of being idiots. So find a third party to blame – traditional vendors, the government, that sort of thing.

Leave a Reply

Join the BrightCarbon mailing list for monthly invites and resources

Tell me more!

There is absolutely no doubt that the BrightCarbon presentation was a quantum leap beyond anything else at the conference with respect to the clarity of the presentation.

Curtis Waycaster Smith & Nephew