Last week, I asked you a couple of questions:
When you attend a 1-day conference like a SQLSaturday or SQL Relay, what is your preferred session schedule?
- 31.8% (211 votes): 6 60-minute sessions
- 31.3% (208 votes): A mix of 45-minute and 90-minute sessions
- 25.3% (168 votes): 7 45-minute sessions: 25.3%
- 11.6% (77 votes): 5 75-minute sessions
Other ways to think about that:
- 88.4% do not want 75-minute sessions
- 56.6% want 45-minute sessions as building blocks, and most of those voters want some of the sessions to be double-length
I know that’s frustrating for some presenters to hear because presenters want all of the time they can get, but the reality is that during a 1-day conference, attendees want more variety.
When you attend a 2-3 day conference like the PASS Summit or SQLbits, what is your preferred session schedule?
- 50.2% (333 votes): A mix of 45-minute and 90-minute sessions
- 20.2% (134 votes): 6 60-minute sessions
- 18.2% (121 votes): 5 75-minute sessions
(or to put it another way, 81.8% of voters do not want this)
- 11.4% (76 votes): 7 45-minute sessions
I expected the numbers to be different during a longer event (thus the two separate questions), and they were – but in both cases, they were a strong vote against the default 75-minute session length of many events.
Attendees like 45 minute blocks, not 75.
This confirms something I’ve found when polling my own training class attendees who told me things like:
- 75 minutes is too long to listen to one speaker without a break
- Speakers try to cover too much ground, trying to bring people from 100-level to 300-level in a single session
- When given a 75-minute slot, speakers leave too much time for Q&A – when instead they should take questions during the break, next to the podium, after the session completes
As a presenter, my first reaction was to fight the attendees – to tell them they don’t understand what presenters are trying to do, or how we as presenters could do better, or how we need to adapt their expectations.
That doesn’t work.
Attendees are the customers, and we presenters need to spend some time listening and adapting our work to meet the customers’ requests. They want shorter sessions, and they want us to deliver more knowledge in less time.
If you’re a presenter, this means your abstracts need to clearly define your ideal session attendee, then stick to it. As you plan your abstract, write down what the ideal session attendee already knows, and don’t try to cover that stuff in the session. Write down what’s going to be out of scope too – you simply can’t take someone from 100 level to 300 level inside a single 75-minute session. (You certainly can’t do it in 45, either – and if conferences listen to attendee feedback, shorter sessions might start becoming the new normal.)
In my own classes – both one-day pre-cons and multi-day classes – I’ve taken this feedback to heart by aiming to teach in 45-60 minute modules rather than 60-75 minutes. At first, it felt like a more stuttered agenda, taking a 15-minute bio break every 45 minutes, but it does seem to result in more focused attendees that are more able to digest material through the entire day.