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By: Janine Kick

“How long should my actual pitch presentation be if I have an hour long meeting?” 

It’s a common question, and one of the most fundamental things we focus on while preparing entrepreneurs to pitch their business. Luckily, there is an answer (with decades of real-world evidence): 18-minutes. 

TED conferences have largely become the gold standard for public speaking and presentations over the past 30 years. In that time, the hosts have learned a thing or two about keeping their audience’s attention. According to TED talks curator Chris Anderson, 18 minutes is short enough to hold people’s attention, precise enough to be taken seriously, and long enough to say something that matters. 

Venture capital investors tend to agree. I have yet to meet an investor that wants a business pitch to run longer than 20 minutes. In fact, some prefer a 10 minute pitch. However with a product demo or video and more than one presenter 18 minutes is acceptable. 

Extending beyond the 18 minute mark is a risk you should take cautiously. 

Your brain is an energy hog and listening is an energy consuming process. As the brain takes in new information and is forced to process it, millions of neurons are firing at once, burning energy and leading to fatigue. Your listeners brain will be overwhelmed with information if your presentation is too long. This “cognitive backlog” will keep your audience from remembering your key message. 

On top of this, your audience has a short attention span. Around the 10 minute mark, most adults will start to look for outside stimulation. Biologist John Medina studies how the brain processes information. Medina has found given a topic of moderate interest, people will begin to tune out after approximately 10 minutes. Which doesn’t suggest you should end your presentation after 10 minutes, but it does suggest that you should re-engage the audience at the 10 minute mark. Cue your strategically placed product demo 10 minutes in to pull your audience back in.

I know what you’re thinking: how on earth am I meant to pitch my business in 18 minutes. It will require you to evaluate every word, condense your messaging and provide clarity around your argument. Eighteen minutes will allow your audience to decide how far they want to take the topic. You’ll spend the first 10 minutes getting to know each other and the last 30 minutes having meaningful conversation with lots of Q&A. Either way, 18 minutes, with plenty of practice, will give you enough time to convey your message without putting your audience to sleep.