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By Kevin Iwamoto, SVP

At the 2018 Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) annual convention in San Diego, many of the education sessions (of which there were about 100+ in total), more than half the sessions were trimmed back to 30 minutes from the usual 60-minute format. This was a deliberate strategy by GBTA President, Christle Johnson and GBTA leadership to respond to general membership feedback from previous years that there wasn’t enough education content and sessions during the convention.

This year I was privileged to be part of two sessions, one on Duty of Care for Meetings and Events with my good friend Theresa Thomas of WorldAware (formerly iJET).  The second one was on Wednesday, the last day of the convention which surprisingly resulted in a standing room only situation.  That panel I moderated was about managing a relevant travel program with more Millennial and Gen Z travelers. My star panelists were Anjela Evangelista from Twitter (a Millennial herself) and industry veteran Tim Nichols from E&Y.

Both sessions were designated as 30 minutes and both sessions had tons of relevant content and discussion which had to be trimmed back. To show how serious and well organized GBTA was in managing all the 30-minute sessions, all speakers were briefed before all sessions and told that when you hear the “award show music get louder” you have one minute, and your microphone will cut off.  Talk about pressure!

However, prior to that, GBTA did an excellent job of reminding speakers of their time limitations and provided advice and guidance on how to adapt to the new format while sharing relevant content and allowing for a few questions from the audience.  They also wisely built in 15-minute intervals between sessions and logistically situated all the education rooms in nearby rooms of various sizes and seating designs.  While I was a little skeptical at first when I initially heard about the new 30-minute format, I must admit that the sessions I attended all adhered to the 30-minute time limit and the content was not sacrificed.

With the success of the 30-minute sessions, will other associations and shows attempt the same short session formatting?  Time will tell but if you go by the most successful and effective conference organizer, TED Conferences LLC*, conference organizers should seriously consider the shorter session format.

TED Conferences restrict speakers to only 18 minutes or less, primarily because that is the maximum time frame of attention that people have to listen and absorb information before their attention span and retention capabilities start to diminish.  Don’t believe me?  From my own observations as a speaker and audience member, I’ve noticed that at the 15 to 20-minute mark is when people decide to bolt or to stay for the rest of the session.  The other time frame for audience attrition is just before a session is supposed to


Personally, I like the shorter session format because it forces speakers and moderators to be very strategic and disciplined in their content sharing and session time management.  It allows for conference organizers and associations to provide more content diversity and sessions for their attendees.  It also reduces the over-reliance on PowerPoint and Keynote slides.

So, will 30-minute content sessions become the new norm for conventions?  Only time will tell, but as a frequent professional speaker, it feels like the new norm to me, especially with the audience generational mix becoming more Millennial and Gen Z.


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