“You’ve got 2.75 seconds to catch someone’s attention.”

“The average adult attention span is 12 seconds.” (Or 8 seconds, or 3. Pick your study.)

“The sweet spot for training is 15 minutes.” (Or 30 minutes, or 5. Pick your vendor recommendation.)

There are a lot of messages out there telling us that shorter is better when it comes to compliance training. And, generally speaking, that’s true. But there’s a big, old asterisk on that: Your training needs to be the right length to accomplish your goal. You can’t just shrinky-dink a large course or lop off some portion of the material to hit a predetermined length.

Shorter isn’t better if it doesn’t do what you need it to do.

So how long should your course be? It depends. Start by asking yourself: What is it I’m trying to accomplish?

I want people to sit up and take notice.

An important goal for compliance officers in some risk areas is simply, “I need to get this on people’s radar. I need them to know it’s a thing.

Maybe you want to keep the reporting line top of mind. Or you want “Safety first!” to sound like a bell in employees’ minds as they move through their work day. Or, thinking of a more complex topic such as conflicts of interest, you want to put the phrase itself in people’s minds to introduce the concepts, establish a foundation, and build on it for future training.

How long does it take to do that? Arguably, a split second. Think of a billboard that flashes as you pass it on the highway, or a poster in a breakroom. This is where more creative short communications, such as micro-videos or gifs posted on internal message boards or inserted in an email signature, can grab attention.

I want to help people recognize risk and to direct them to resources.

When what you need people to understand is primarily definitional (e.g., This is what insider trading is, and this is why it matters), you don’t need — or want — to belabor the point. You want to boil it down to the basics, using interesting and relevant storytelling, then tell people where — and when — to seek more help. Any more than that can risk muddying your message.

In this case, a catchy 90-second explainer video in a course wrapper can get the job done.

I want to set expectations and give people specific steps to take in their work.

This is among the most common training needs we see: Compliance officers need to go one step beyond the “what” to the “So, what?”

It can take a little longer than a short video to lay out specific actions employees are expected to take — or not to take. For example, in antitrust training, making it clear that employees are expected to make a “noisy exit” from a risky conversation. Or, to use the insider training example, walking through several examples of material nonpublic information in addition to defining the problem.

Shorter isn’t better if it doesn’t do what you need it to do.

At Rethink, we package materials like this into 5- to 7-minute Targeted Risk Courses. Remember: “one and done” courses aren’t enough to keep a topic top-of-mind for employees in their day-to-day work. When employees have already received training in a particular subject area but need a refresher, Targeted Risk Courses can keep the topic fresh.

I want employees to explore a variety of ways a risk could arise.

Sometimes, shorter simply isn’t better. It’s not necessarily about the risk area itself, but about the complexity of the ways your employees will encounter it in their work. A 5-minute Targeted Risk Course explaining basic expectations for data privacy may be what most of your audience needs. But employees who encounter personal data, for instance, in a variety of ways in their work will need a longer course that explores each of those ways at the right pace and in the right depth.

This is where a 20- to 40-minute Foundational Risk Course can cover the material. You may also choose to supplement with follow-up materials in emails or live presentations to cement individual instances or tricky concepts.

Of course, the length of your course is just one piece of the puzzle. No matter how long your compliance training is, it must answer that most human of questions for your audience: What does this have to do with me? The right messaging, at the right length, can work magic for your compliance program.

At Rethink Compliance, we’re passionate about helping clients find the right courses and communications for their goals. That’s why we include a Curriculum Planning service free in all multi-year library contracts. We’ll help you decide which topics to address, in which order, and to which audiences, along with the appropriate length, format, and contract approach. Want to learn more or just chat about where your compliance and ethics program is headed? Reach out to us at hello@rethinkcompliance.com. The first consultation is always free!