Is Less Really More?
I just got back from the AAO Annual Session in San Diego last month. It was an honor to speak at the event, as well as listen to cutting edge orthodontics presented by speakers from across the globe! What made this year’s scientific event different was the “time slots” allotted to speakers at the congress. Mostly 30 min slots to get their message across in a crisp and focused manner. A change from the conventional 45 min or 60 min slots we listen to at orthodontic conferences around the globe. Good idea? Most definitely! Speakers who put in months preparing for a lecture obviously yearn for more time to showcase their work, yours truly included! However, congresses are about audiences and their attention span to carry a message back home. Is that trend changing? Do conference organizers need to plan schedules keeping this phenomenon in mind? I would think so! Ideas are the currency of the 21st century. You can have brilliant and truly revolutionary ideas – but if you cannot persuade others to act on those ideas, those ideas just don’t matter!
Today, thanks to the world-famous TED conference, independently organized TEDx events, and new research into the science of persuasion, we have learned more about what moves people than we have ever known. Given the fact that TED talks are streamed more than 2 million times per day, I would argue that most orthodontic lectures at conferences too (that are streamed on Facebook Live - an increasing trend!) would be compared to TED. TED talks are inspiring, educational, informative, and wildly addictive. The length of a TED talk is 18 min – is one of the key reasons behind the format’s success.
It does not take a scientist to know that you cannot inspire people if you put them to sleep. However, scientists are beginning to identify how long most people can pay attention before they tune out. The range seems to be in the area of 10–18 min. TED organizers reached the conclusion that 18 min works best. Nobody, no matter how famous, wealthy, or influential is allowed to speak more than 18 min on a TED stage – it does not matter if your name is Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Bono, or Tony Robbins, who joked that he found the 18 min rule extra challenging because his shortest seminar was 50 h!
TED curator Chris Anderson explained the organization’s thinking this way.
“It [18 min] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 min to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.”
From a receptive audience perspective, the shorter “time slot” rule also works because the brain is an energy hog. The average adult human brain only weighs about three pounds, but it consumes an inordinate amount of glucose, oxygen, and blood flow. 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 and exhaustion. Researchers at Texas Christian University are finding that the act of listening can be as equally draining as thinking hard about a subject. Dr. Paul King calls it “cognitive backlog.” Like weights, he says, the more information we are asked to take in, the heavier and heavier it gets. Eventually, we drop it all, failing to remember anything we have been told. In King’s own research, he found that graduate students recall more of the information they learn when they go to class 3 days a week for 50 min instead of 1 day a week for 3 h. Although most students say they had preferred to get the class over with at once, they retain more information when receiving the information in shorter amounts of time.
Are Orthodontic Speakers listening? I have had umpteen conversations with colleagues who whine about adhering to time – “how do people expect me to present 3 years of research in 30 min?” My answer to this rhetoric is simple - If you can’t convey your message in a stipulated time, you can’t ever do it! Life itself comes with a time frame!
A lot can happen in short time slots. John Kennedy inspired a nation to look to the stars in 15 min. In a 15 min TED talk, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg inspired millions of women to “lean in.” Steve Jobs gave one of the most popular commencement addresses of our time at Stanford University, and he did it in 15 min. It took Dr. Martin Luther King a bit longer to share his dream of racial equality – he did it in 17 min. If these leaders can inspire their audiences in 20 min or less, this time frame is plenty of time for orthodontic professionals to present that “next big idea” that will impact our profession!
Nikhilesh R. Vaid
Visiting Professor, Department of Orthodontics, European University Dental College, DHCC, Dubai, UAE
Address for correspondence: Prof. Nikhilesh R. Vaid, Only Orthodontics, New Blue Gardenia Housing Society, Peddar Road, Opp Jindal Mansion, Mumbai - 400 026, Maharashtra, India. E-mail: email@example.com
- Available from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140313205730-5711504-the-science-behind-ted-s-18-minute-rule. [Last accessed on 2017 May 14]
- Available from: https://www.quora.com/Why-are-TED-talks-18-minutes-long-or-less. [Last accessed on 2017 May 14]
- Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/..../why-a-20-minute-presentation-always-beats-a-60-minute-on. [Last accessed on 2017 May 12]