One of the most common questions we’re asked at NMP Live is ‘how long will the speaker talk for at my event?’ And truth be told, there’s no single answer to this question; the type of speaker, specific details of your function, time of day, audience and many other factors all impact on how long a speech should be.
However, to help plan your event, there are a number of broad guidelines we can share with you for the different types of speakers you may book.
TED Style Talks
TED talks are intended to convey one central idea, concept or over-arching message in a single defining speech. They are short and impactful, and 18 minutes is the magic number. They are also the optimal duration to work as bitesize stand-alone videos, perfect to view online – for which TED talks receive millions of hits.
Unlike the online TED format, at a conference, the keynote or motivational speaker’s focus is on delivering an impactful speech to a live audience. For an external guest speaker, he or she may need to give some background about themselves and establish their credentials, or provide some context to set the scene in order to deliver their presentation. There may also be multiple messages to convey or address throughout the speech. As a general guide, 40-45 minutes is standard for a keynote or motivational speech and we’d often allow 15-20 minutes for audience questions at the end. There are some speakers who may require a full 60 minutes to deliver their speech, so overall, allow a one-hour time slot and you’ll be covered for most speakers.
After Dinner Speakers
As the title implies, this type of speech will take place after a lunch or dinner and is generally an informal and light-hearted talk where, prior to the speech, the speaker will have usually dined with the guests. At these events the ambience is more relaxed, the drink is often flowing, and guests don’t want to concentrate too hard — or for too long — on a presentation; first and foremost they want to socialise, enjoy the evening and be entertained.
So generally, 25-30 minutes works well for most functions. Having said that, renown orator and NMP stalwart — one of the best after dinner speakers in the business, Gyles Brandreth — once held the Guinness World Record for the longest after dinner speech, at a whopping 12 and a half hours. All done for fun as a charity fundraising stunt!
For corporate and private engagements, stand-up comedians tend to perform a slightly shorter set than after dinner speakers. Why? As a rule, an after dinner speaker will tell stories and regale you with anecdotes from their life, career, and formative years — and many of these may well be very funny — but they’re not telling jokes per-se. You’re venturing on a journey of discovery with the speaker to learn something interesting you didn’t know half an hour earlier. Comedians, on the other hand, are joke machines, often rapid-fire, they generally aim to make you laugh at least once every 30-60 seconds. And one-liner ‘gag merchants’ such as Gary Delaney and Tim Vine with even more frequency.
This approach can only be sustained for so long, and somewhere between 20-25 minutes is generally accepted to be just right, whilst some may stretch this to 30 minutes. Many of the top stand-up comedians will only contract for 20 minutes, but may agree to perform up to 25 / 30 minutes if they feel it’s right for the audience. It’s therefore down to their professional judgement and discretion on the night.
The true stars of any awards ceremony are the nominees and winners seated in the audience. So it would be improper if a speaker or comedian, booked to host the event, stole too much of the limelight and launched into a full after dinner speech or comedy routine. It would also prolong the start of the main event, the awards.
At the top of the evening, the host’s role is to welcome guests and deliver a short address or performance; setting the tone for the night ahead, building the energy in the room and focusing the audience’s attention before the awards. Whatever type of host you’ve booked, somewhere around 6-8 minutes is an ideal length.
The above guidelines are very broad and cover the wide range of engagements we oversee. Every event, brief and speaker or comedian will be different. The size of the audience, venue, time of day, event itinerary and individual preferences will all impact on the duration of a speech or performance.
For further advice, based on the specifics of your event, please speak with one of our experienced and friendly booking agents.