What’s the optimal length for a virtual program segment?

Apr 13, 2021 | Ask Alfred

Dear Alfred,
What’s the optimal length for a virtual program segment?
Arli Everett, Washington, DC

Dear Richard,
Having made my living for years as a professional writer, I learned to pay close attention to my editors because they almost always made my work look better. One piece of wisdom from one of my favorite editors was about how long an article should be: “Write it as long as it needs to be, but no longer.”
Sage advice, especially for event planners. Too many people get sucked into the convenience of tidy segments. When you have a six-hour day to fill, six one-hour segments can be a handy solution. This might work (emphasis on might) if your audience is captive in a convention center ballroom, but it’s not likely to cut it for a virtual event.

Instead, look to other types of events as models. For example, take one of the cable new channels. Their shows may be one or two hours long, but they are not segmented into regimented blocks. Instead, you’ll get a talking head for a while, then maybe a one-on-one interview, then perhaps a presentation of video segments or a panel discussion. The point is that they mix it up, both in terms of content and length of segment.

For another example, look to YouTube. How long is a YouTube video? It depends. Some are 40 second snacks, others are 5- to 10-minute overviews, and still others can run 20 or 30 minutes or more to dive deep into a topic.

So my smart aleck answer is “Not the same length as the preceding segment.” Mix it up, and follow my wise editor’s advice; make each segment as long as it needs to be, but no longer.

Alfred Poor, Technology Editor

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