Industry Insights | Is the 30-Minute Education Session the New Norm?

Is the 30-Minute Education Session the New Norm?

by Kevin Iwamoto | August 30, 2018

Kevin IwamotoAt this year’s 2018 Global Business Travel Association’s annual convention in San Diego, there were more than 100 education sessions, and more than half of them were trimmed back to 30 minutes from the usual 60-minute format. This was a deliberate strategy by GBTA’s President Christle Johnson and the association’s leadership in responding to general-membership feedback from previous years that there weren’t enough education content and sessions during the convention.

This year I was privileged to be part of two sessions. One was on “Duty of Care for Meetings and Events,” held with my good friend Theresa Thomas of WorldAware (formerly iJET). The second was on Wednesday, the last day of the convention, which surprisingly resulted in a standing-room-only situation. That panel I moderated was about managing a relevant travel program with Millennial and Gen Z travelers. My star panelists were Anjela Evangelista from Twitter (a Millennial herself) and industry veteran Tim Nichols from EY.

Both sessions were designated as 30 minutes, and both had tons of relevant content and discussion that had to be trimmed back. To show how serious and well-organized GBTA was in managing the sessions, every speaker had been briefed ahead of time and told that when they heard the “award show music” getting louder, they had one minute to finish before the microphone was cut off. Talk about pressure!

However, prior to that, GBTA did an excellent job of informing speakers of their time limitations and provided advice and guidance on how to adapt to the new format while sharing relevant content and allowing for a few questions from the audience. They also wisely built in 15‐minute intervals between sessions and logistically situated all the education rooms near to each other.

While I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about the new 30-minute format, I must admit that the sessions I attended all adhered to the time limit, and content was not sacrificed.

With the success of the 30‐minute session, will other associations and shows attempt the same? Time will tell, but if you go by the most successful and effective conference organizer, TED Conferences, the shorter session looks ready to prevail.

TED Conferences traditionally restrict speakers to just 18 minutes or less, per their experience that this is the maximum time frame of attention that people have to listen and absorb information before their attention span and retention capabilities start to diminish. From my own observations as a speaker and audience member, I’ve noticed that the 15- to 20‐minute mark is when people decide to bolt or to stay for the rest of the session. The other period for audience attrition is just before a session is supposed to end.

Personally, I like the shorter session format because it forces speakers and moderators to be very strategic and disciplined in their content sharing and time management. It allows for conference organizers and associations to provide more content diversity and a greater number of sessions for their attendees. It also reduces the over‐reliance on PowerPoint and Keynote slides.

Only time will tell if 30‐minute content sessions become standard for conventions, but to me, as a frequent professional speaker, it already feels like the new norm, especially with the audience generational mix becoming more Millennial and Gen Z. 

Kevin Iwamoto is senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinIwamoto or visit his Amazon Author Page.

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