How long should a Keynote Speech be and how do you know when it is too short or too long?
One of the most common questions I’m asked by corporate event managers is, ‘’How long should a Keynote Speech be?” In response, I ask them have they listened to Gary Moore’s song Parisienne Walkways.
I explain that at one point in the song he would play a note that he could sustain for an incredibly long time (often more than 27 seconds). It is unusual for any note to be played for a long period of time so this became known as his ‘infinite sustain’. It was a feature of his live performances where he would hold the note so long that the audience would spontaneously burst into applause. Often audiences would leave the event and say that they still have that note ringing in their ears.
I use this metaphor because I believe a Keynote Speech should live up to its name: it should be the keynote of the day; it should set the right tone of the day which everything else follows and is attuned to. And that note (message) should be left a ringing in the audience's ears for a long time afterwards.
So, how long should a Keynote Speech be? The answer is, ‘It depends’. It depends on the skill of the Speaker to hold the audiences’ attention, the time needed by the Speaker to leave an impactful message, and the time available based on the logistics of your event. For more insights, check out our article: What is a Keynote Speech / Speaker?
The Maximum Length of Time: The Skill of the Speaker.
It is hard to play a musical note for a long period of time and so too with giving a Keynote Speech for a long period of time. The longer the note is played in music the more skill needed in the musical and the longer the Keynote Speech is performed at an event the more skill needed in the Speaker; the longer a Keynote Speech is the more skill needed to have to hold the audiences’ attention. Indeed, you will know that a Keynote Speech is too long if the Speaker has lost the audience attention. So, the maximum length of time of the Keynote Speech is based on the Speakers skill. In theory, this could be hours. However, in reality, this is more like 45-60 mins.
The Maximum length of a Keynote Speech is based on the Speakers skill.
The Minimum Length of Time: Creating an Impactful Message.
In addition to the maximum length of time, based on the Speakers skill, there is a minimum length of time needed to create an impactful and lasting message; there is a minimum amount of time needed to leave a message ‘ringing in the ears’ of the audience. A good Keynote message lasts the full length of the event and a great Keynote message lasts much longer, far beyond the event. You will know that a Keynote Speech is too short if even though the Speaker was clear with their message it felt like they did not have enough time to deepen it. So, the minimum length of time is the time needed for the Speaker to create an impactful message that has depth. In theory, this could be seconds. However, in reality, this is a minimum of 20 mins.
The Minimum length of time of a Keynote Speech is based on the time needed to create an impactful message that has depth.
The Practical Length of Time: The Logistics of your Event.
The length of a Keynote Speech is also influenced by the time slot available based on the logistics of your event. Every event has its own dynamic and Keynote Speakers need to adapt to this. However, as an event manager, it is important to plan in enough time to get the most value from your investment in the Keynote Speaker. Start by planning a time slot of 60 mins. And then discuss with Speaker the optimal time slot. Remember, a Keynote Speaker is an investment, make sure you plan in enough time for it to work effectively.
Start by planning a 45-60 min time slot for the Keynote Speech.
How long should a Keynote Speech be?
The length of a Keynote Speech depends on the skill of the Speaker to hold the audiences’ attention, the time needed by the Speaker to leave an impactful message, and the time available based on the logistics of your event. As a rule, anything shorter than 20 mins is not optimal. Instead, plan for a 45-60 mins Keynote Speech. And remember to discuss with the Speaker if it is possible to extend this to get the most value from their involvement.
If you want a full description of its benefits before you download this Checklist, check out the Keynote Speaker BEST FIT Checklist page and you will see all the reasons why.