Skip to main content

How Long Should Your Speech Be?

Learn how long to make your speech from media coach TJ Walker in this Howcast public speaking video.


How long should your speech be? People come to me all the time and say, 'DJ, I want you to teach me to be concise. I want to be short. I want to be concise.' That shouldn't be your primary goal. Your goal should be to communicate information in a memorable way that's useful to your audience.

Now there was a major study done by the U.S. Defense Department in 1974 on length of speeches. And their conclusion was that the optimum length of a speech is 17.5 minutes. Personally, I think that's a bunch of bologna. Because here's the problem with that. If you're incredibly boring, two minutes is too long. People are falling asleep. On the other hand, if you're incredibly interesting and memorable and giving useful information, I've seen speaker captivate an audience from 10:00 in the morning to midnight.

So your goal should not be some arbitrary length. Your goal should be what are the handful of ideas that are really important to you, that you can make memorable to your audience? And how can you use that time through examples, stories, case studies, pictures, handouts, to make those ideas come alive. Because if it's a really important idea for you, and it's important to your audience, they'll listen to you for hours.

Now all things being equal, if you're going to be really boring, yeah, it's better to be boring for three minutes than for an hour and three minutes. But that's not the choice. The choice is between boring and interesting and relevant. My advice is to forget about the time. Instead, focus on the ideas that you want your audience to know. Then focus on all the ways that you can make it memorable.

Now there are occasions when you're given a strict time limit. A financial presentation at a conference, and no one is allowed more than 15 minutes. OK. Make sure you rehearse with a timer and get it down. But just because you have less time, doesn't mean speak faster, or strip out examples. That's not the solution. Remember, focus on the ideas for your audience and the time will generally take care of itself.

Popular Categories