January 5, 2010

Find out in advance how long you should be presenting for.  If this is an ad hoc presentation, ask the audience how long they can spare.  Then make sure you can easily see a clock or a watch, or have someone in the audience who can hold up time cards to let you know how long you have left.

If you are timing yourself the most important things is to look at the time just before you start, with all the other things you are thinking about this can so easily be forgotten and then you do not know if you are on time or not.

There are few greater sins than running over time when giving a presentation and there is no reason why you should.

Most novice presenters worry if they will be able to talk for long enough to fill the allotted time.  This is rarely a problem for two reasons: a) It usually takes longer to give a presentation than it did when you were rehearsing; b) Very few audiences will be worried if you finish ahead of time.

On the rare occasions that you do end up finishing well ahead of time do not apologise, just ask for questions.

It is more likely that you will be running over, in which case, you need to cut some of the anecdotes, go into less detail and maybe speed up your delivery.  If you are using PowerPoint or have a carousel full of 35mm slides, you have a problem, as you cannot miss out a slide.  One of the worst things you can do is put up a slide for a second or two and say, ‘In the interests of time we will skip over this one’.  This makes your audience feel a) that they are missing something and b) that if the slide really was not worth looking at why was it there in the first place.

You are far better to go through each slide but summarise the information they contain, it is surprising how quickly you can work through a set of slides.  You do not need to read out every bullet point, or talk about each of the items.  Summarise the slide and leave the audience to read what it says.

The one thing not to rush is the conclusion and the call to action.  The call to action is in many ways the reason for the presentation, so if you skip over that there was little point in doing the presentation at all.  This is why it is useful to mark interim timings on your cue cards so that you know you are over running before you reach the end.  That way you can speed up the middle of the presentation and leave time for the summary and your call to action at the end.

Of course, the best approach is to practise, practise, practise.  That way you will know you have the right material for the time available.  If you are timing a presentation in rehearsal, it is imperative that you say the presentation aloud when you are timing it.  I would then add an extra 20% to the time taken, as invariably people take longer in real life.

For a 45-minute conference presentation, where you are expecting to have a question and answer session at the end, I would prepare 30 minutes worth of talking.  This should then take about 35 minutes to give and leave 10 minutes for questions and answers.

Remember to give your call to action after the Q&A session not before it or it will be forgotten.

When you are giving one in a series of presentations and the previous speaker has over-run, the best policy is to cut your presentation short to bring the whole event back on to schedule. By giving a crisp, clear but short presentation you will earn far more browny points than by sticking to your original timings and compounding the over-run of the previous speaker(s).

Presentation Training and Coaching is available from the author of this blog. Please visit my presentation training  website.

Give me a day and I’ll change your presentations, forever