Anything you have to say in a business setting should fit into a seven minute window. That's my theory about business presentations, and I've devised a plan to help you get through a talk at a conference, your next board meeting, an investor chat, or even your daily team meetings. If you talk less than seven minutes, people won't quite grasp what you have to say. If you talk more than seven minutes, you'll drone on a bit too much and lose people. It’s the ideal length for holding the attention of a crowd.
Now, before I explain what to do for the seven minutes, let's address the elephant in the room. His name is TED. The rule for every TED talk is to explain yourself in 18 minutes. Chris Anderson, the founder of the conference, has explained that 18 minutes is about the right length for the talks, and I tend to agree. That is, if you are Bill Gates or Elon Musk. However, for 99% of the people in business who need to hold the attention of the crowd, I'd cut that down to seven minutes.
I'm basing this rule on a few interesting findings of my own. First, when I created the seven-minute morning routine, I was relaying what I've done in my personal life for two decades. It works. And, as 200,000 people have read about so far and thousands have tried for themselves, it’s about the right length. My theory is that readers were drawn to the seven minutes. It isn't such a long period that your work will suffer or you can’t commit to doing it consistently, yet it's long enough to become truly contemplative. The same length of time works for presentations, especially if you are an entrepreneur. In hyper-connected world of texts and tweets, seven minutes is about the right time to make a point.
I've also given hundreds of talks, and seven minutes is about right. I've participated in dozens and dozens of startup sessions listening to entrepreneurs explain a new idea. In the first few minutes, you are still getting your head around the idea. After seven minutes you start tuning out. Your audience wants you to explain just the right amount to engage them.
So, seven minutes for a presentation. Here's how to do it.
1. Before you start: Prepare.
The first step is to decide how you will make sure the talk fits into seven minutes. That means using a stopwatch or the timer on your phone. It means planning out what you will say during each minute of the talk right down to the first minute, the last minute, and everything in between. With notes or without, with visuals or without–that's your call. Just make sure you use all seven minutes. The only way to do that is to practice and time yourself. Find a place and a few hours to make that happen.
2. Minute one: Get their attention.
Every great presentation I've ever seen started with a bang. It's important that this "bang" actually ties into the topic or idea you will address. A quick animation, a clip from The Office–the "bang" doesn't matter, just pick something that takes up the first minute. Time it. Practice it. Get your "bang" down perfectly. Anyone listening should be ready to hear the main point. Never start with the main point, though. People need an adjustment period to your speaking style, the environment, and even the lighting. You are preparing them for the topic. The 60-second restriction helps you hone everything down.
3. Minute two: Summarize the topic or idea in exactly 60 seconds.
Now, forget about any other jokes or segues. You already have the attention of everyone in the room. Now make sure you use it wisely. Explain exactly what you are selling, suggesting, explaining, or discussing with the group within the next 60 second window. Get it polished but not overly scripted. Watch a few Jimmy Fallon monologues and notice how he holds your attention. Listen to TED talks. Look up how Steve Jobs worked the room so effectively. Follow those models. If you can't explain your idea in 60 seconds, you'll need to revise it so that it can be explained in that window.
4. Minute three through six: Give them the meat.
If you followed my advice so far, two things have happened. People have started paying attention (the first minute) and they've heard the gist of your point (minute two). Keep an eye on the timer because, for the next four minutes, you are going to add some supporting material. This is where you can experiment. No need to stick to a three-point plan. You could have three points or eight. You just need to fit your supporting comments into all into four minutes. And, the really important point here is to spend the time wisely. Give them stats, quotes, quips–whatever it takes.
5. Minute seven: Summarize it again.
Now you are on the homestretch. This is where you need to summarize what you said. You might notice that my rule for presentations follows closing with the seven-minute morning routine. That's intentional. In your last minute, you are debriefing the crowd. You grabbed them, you gave them the summary, you proved the summary, now you are closing the deal. One minute can take forever when you have already digested information for six minutes straight, so keep this lively and fast-paced. Don't lose the crowd by closing with a funny story. Leave them with a take-home idea. That’s what they will remember.
And…that's it. You’re done. Seven minutes. If you are giving a talk at a bread-making club or a nuclear symposium, know that this rule of presentations still works because we tend to tune out from anything after seven minutes. Maybe you can move on later to more discussion (or more slides) but just know that you won't have people hooked as much as you did for seven minutes.
Now, will you agree to at least try this rule once for a presentation? Practice it and perfect it, then see how it goes. Then, let me know if it worked. You can feel free to challenge the idea, the length, or the structure. Just post in comments so everyone can participate. And, if anyone wants to start a 7-Minute Conference, be my guest. Just make sure you invite me and stick to the formula. I’m excited to see what happens.