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.

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Written by

Joby Blume

Director

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  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.

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