Everybody’s time is precious. We’re all busy, and we all hate to have our time wasted. So why do so many presenters risk alienating their audience by going over their allotted time? To set yourself apart as a true presentation master, get fanatical about time management and stick to the time you’ve been given.
You Know What It Feels Like to Be Trapped in the Audience…
Picture yourself at a large annual sales meeting. You and your colleagues have been put through the ringer: three days of nonstop training presentations, inspirational talks from senior executives, and team cheerleading sessions. You’re worn out. All you can think about is that drink that awaits you in the bar at the end of the day.
One last speaker is all that stands between you and happy hour. And he’s set to wrap up at 5 pm. You know this guy; he’s good, he knows his stuff. You’re looking forward to what he has to say, even though your brain feels like mush…
Now, how would you feel if, at 5:50 pm, that same speaker was still droning on?
Angry? Frustrated? Impatient? All of the above?
Speak Too Long and You Risk Undermining Audience Goodwill
It’s challenging enough to build real rapport with your audience. You don’t want to undermine the goodwill you create by going longer than expected. Although you may not intend it this way, some will perceive your marathon approach to presentations as the height of selfishness.
Former president Bill Clinton learned this lesson the hard way when he was catapulted into the national limelight in 1988. As the governor of Arkansas, Clinton was a relative unknown when he was asked to nominate his party’s presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, at the Democratic National Convention.
The convention organizers had given Clinton 15 minutes to speak. He began well enough. Although he read from a prepared speech instead of speaking in a more natural, off-the-cuff style, his audience was clearly with him.
But as the allotted 15 minutes stretched into 30, and then into 45 minutes, he began to lose more and more of his listeners. By the time his speech rounded the 60 minute mark, his audience was verging on open rebellion. When the words, “In conclusion,” finally escaped Clinton’s lips, 20,000 people spontaneously stood and erupted into applause.
Probably not the kind of standing ovation he’d been hoping for.
Stick to the Time You’ve Been Given
Effective time management is an essential hallmark of all great presenters. That’s why, as a presentation coach, I emphasize it with all my clients.
So, how long is too long? Any time that goes over the time you’ve been allotted.
If you’re scheduled to speak at a conference or to headline a webinar, and you’ve been asked to speak for 45 minutes and leave 15 minutes for questions, then stick with it.
If you’ve cold-called a new prospect and talked your way into a meeting with the Vice President of Operations and have promised to take no more than 25 minutes of her time, then stick with it.
If you’re presenting to a group of venture capitalists, and at the beginning of the meeting they tell you your time’s been trimmed to eight minutes from 30, then stick with it.
Even better, finish early if you can. Your audience will love you for it.
Here’s the bottom line: if you want to truly excel as a presenter, you have to manage your time well. Everytime you present. Think of it as a contract you’ve made with your audience.
Master Presenters Know That Preparation Is the Key
How do you stay on schedule? Through rigorous preparation. When you know your material and your story inside and out, you can carefully adjust your points to fit the time you’ve got.
And here’s a specific tip for those presenting to VCs: always develop an Executive Summary slide. Make sure this one slide conveys all your key points. That way, if one of the General Partners announces he’s had a last-minute conflict arise, and has to leave in 10 minutes, you’ve got all your talking points on that one slide, and can condense your presentation on the fly.
Share Your Thoughts
Think of the last time you sat through a presentation that ran long. How did it make you feel? Did it affect your opinion of the speaker and/or the event? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.
About the photo: Photo of wall clock by Sarah Saunders. All rights reserved.
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