How Long Should a Keynote Speaker Talk?

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When I get hired as a keynote speaker, a common question from the meeting planner is, "How much time do you need?". My answer is, "How much time do you have?".


The most important thing to consider when determining the length to designate for a keynote speaker is the impact you want them to have on the audience. Know the motivational speech objective to have the maximum impact.

A keynote speaker is the main draw for the event. They need to be engaging and provide meaningful cutting edge content. A keynote is not the time for filler or generic information.

Generally, keynote speakers will speak from 45- 90 minutes in length

When planning a conference agenda, keep these points in mind for speaker time slots:

It depends on the keynote speaker. Some people are painful to listen to for only five minutes, while others can captivate a crowd for hours on end. Ask the speaker how much time they need or hire motivational speakers who can cater the content to the allotted time slot.

If you are looking for an engaging keynote for a longer time frame you need a speaker who has this level of experience. A keynote speaker is a high impact draw for the audience so the speaker has to be engaging throughout the whole speech.

In larger keynote sessions, audience interaction is also more limited because of the size of the audience. Thus, you need a high impact, engaging presentation that doesn't rely on group activities. Be wary of a keynote speaker who will fill the extra time with group work because it isn't easily facilitated in a large crowd. Large groups of people may lose interest in the activity and get up and leave.

It depends on the topic. Any guest speaker would be hard pressed to deliver  "1,000 Ways to Audit Your Business Unit" in only 15 minutes. However, a short motivational speech may be just what people need for a quick twenty minute energy booster. Does the topic warrant a full 90 minutes? 

It depends on your schedule. Most meeting planners design schedules and the specific speaking time slots first and than fill in the content and various speakers. I think it's a better approach to ask the speaker how much time they need first and build your schedule around that. Most guest speakers will know the ideal length for their speech.

Also consider the time of day. A 90 minute keynote at the end of a long, content- rich schedule may be hard to maintain an audience interest. After lunch is also a more challenging spot because people are digesting food and it's harder to stay focused. Large blocks of content without engagement will lose an audience.

Generally speaking, the shorter the better. A really compelling presentation is usually not a full day speech. Most audiences only remember three or four key ideas, so make sure to ask your keynote what those ideas are and build the keynote around that.

A keynote motivational speaker is usually 60 to 90 minutes and a break out sessions or workshops can be longer. If you give speakers too much time, you may find them trying to waste it with irrelevant interaction or activities.

When I was a female motivational speaker for a safety conference recently, the other keynote speaker ended 20 minutes early because he wasn't able to fill his time. It's better he ended the speech early and gave people time to network and visit with vendors than waste people's time with irrelevant content.

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