As a kid I was fascinated by watching professional wrestling on TV. I had no idea it was fake and that the wrestlers were highly trained actors. One of my favorite types of wrestling match was the tag team: two wrestlers made up a team and they would switch off wrestling their two opponents. The different combinations of wrestlers made watching the match even more fun.
A couple of decades later I started founding companies, four of them VC-backed. The three where I had a co-founder all succeeded, eventually. The one where I was sole founder failed. This is just one reason why I almost always recommend to solo founders that they consider bringing on a co-founder.
One of the great things about my having a co-founder was that we tag-teamed the VCs. The two of us would divide our roughly 15 to 20 minute presentation into two parts and would switch off in the middle. Then during the firestorm Q & A from the team of VCs – they only meet solo for the first meeting, interestingly, we would take turns answering questions. The major advantage of this tag team approach was that one of us could observe the VCs to gauge their reactions, and take notes on their feedback while the other spoke. We even developed subtle hand signals to communicate to the partner presenting things like “slow down”, “speed up”, or “move on to the next point.”
But reading the Inc. article about Apple’s keynote presentation format taught me that we had stumbled upon a scientifically-based way to keep our audiences engaged. The article is titled No Apple Presenter Speaks for Longer Than 10-Minutes, and the Reason is Backed by Neuroscience and the sub-title delivers the advice for founders: Change voices frequently to keep your audience from getting bored. This article is by the person I consider the expert on presentations, Carmine Gallo. Check out my posts about his books on this blog. I highly recommend all his books, but especially The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Carmine is a genius at reverse engineering Apple presentations to show you the powerful persuasive techniques used first by Jobs and now by his successors.
Here’s what Carmine has to say about his 10-minute rule:
The brain is easily bored. This one fact explains why Apple does what it does in its product launches. A presentation based on the fundamentals of neuroscience includes frequent changes to keep people interested. But how frequent is ‘frequent’ change?
Neuroscientists say our brains have a built-in stopwatch that ends around 10 minutes. In my conversations with University of Washington Medical School molecular biologist, John Medina, he cites peer-reviewed studies that show people tune out of a presentation in the first ten minutes. “The brain seems to be making choices according to some stubborn timing pattern, undoubtedly influenced by both culture and gene,” he says. “This fact suggests a teaching and business imperative: Find a way to arouse and then hold somebody’s attention for a specific period of time.”
Read the full article to see how Carmine dissects yesterday’s Apple keynote presentation to demonstrate how they carefully observe the 10-minute rule.
What if you don’t have a partner to bring to a VC meeting? Carmine, as usual, has the answer:
If you’re pitching investors, bring along members of your team or a customer. If you’re delivering a solo presentation, insert videos to reset your audience’s internal stopwatch.
You can use the 10-minute rule for company presentations and presentations at events – keep in mind that you if you are flying solo you can always use a video or demo to reset your audience’s 10-minute engagement clock. But I would advise against wearing the pro wrestlers tag team outfits!