Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to gauge time

I went to a talk a month or two ago. A panel discussion to be precise.

Does it matter which one? It doesn’t. A lack of identifying details means everyone can retain their dignity. Plus it was a free event, so what right do I have to complain?

The structure of the talk was thus: each of the three guests would speak about their work for 10 minutes. Afterwards, the moderator would toss some provocative questions at the panel.

The first guest spoke for almost exactly 10 minutes. They had 10 minutes worth of material to convey. Good job.

The second guest spoke for a little over 10 minutes. I’m guessing they had prepared at least 15 or 20 minutes worth of material. I was sad when the speaker stopped. I could have listened to the second guest for 40 minutes.

The third guest spoke for at least 20 minutes. Probably closer to 25. They had prepared at least 30 or 35 minutes worth of material. At the 15 minute mark, I began to resent the third speaker for ignoring the time limit. If anyone should have bent the rules, it was the second guest.

The event was scheduled to last 90 minutes, but the question portion of the evening only started at the 90 minute mark. Adding to my delight, the moderator started asking 12-part questions. In short: I wasn’t entirely happy with the event. And yes, it was free. So I should just chill.

But this is a reoccurring problem, and a solvable one.

A few weeks after the great panel failure of 2014, I went to my first Pecha Kucha event. I was curious to see how the guest speakers would adapt to the imposed time limit. (You get 20 slides, and only 20 seconds per slide). Guess what? Everyone did a superb job. The slides advance automatically, nudging the speaker along. And everyone knows that 20 seconds is not a lot of time – it’s less than a TV or radio commercial.

But 10 minutes? That’s a small yet undivided chunk of time. If you’re the organizer of the event, you might need to ask the speakers to pick three projects that best exemplify their work, creative approach or philosophy, and then spend about three minutes per project going into more detail. That leaves each speaker with a minute or so to introduce themselves. Or give them 15 minutes and ask them to do the same thing (best three projects). Anything that segments that chunk of time into something more meaningful and manageable.