Keeping to time in a business presentation has always been important, but the pressure to do so has increased as the demand for short TED-style talks grows. Now, five-minute presentations are the order of the day at many business networking events.
There are actually many benefits of speaking for a short amount of time, but let’s focus here on the dos and don’ts of keeping to time.
Don’t even try to cram in all you would ideally like to say to this particular audience. Ideally, choose one key message and focus all you say around that.
Don’t speed up just to cram in all you want to say – it will simply diminish the effect of anything they manage to hear.
Don’t start to embellish what you have rehearsed. However nervous people may feel in advance of giving a presentation, they often start to feel more relaxed as they get into the swing of it. As a result, they become more conversational in tone and stretch out what they had planned to say, with the result that they run over time. Do stick to the plan!
Don’t have a ‘countdown-style’ clock or a system of lights or signals in front of you. This will simply feel threatening; and what are you supposed to do if you are running out of time? Speeding up is not the answer! Also, don’t have a digital clock in front of you. When you look at a digital clock you need to ‘translate’ the digits into an image in your mind to understand what you are seeing; that is going to distract from your delivery.
Do have an analogue clock within your general view so that, with the merest glance, you can check you are broadly on track. If you are giving a lengthy presentation, make a note of where you should be at key points of time and mark these on any prompts you are using.
Do rehearse - and keep rehearsing - until you come comfortably within the allotted time in a natural manner. That way, your analogue clock simply provides reassurance – it is not driving you along! Ensure that you have at least one rehearsal in the space where you will be speaking – so as to overcome feelings of unfamiliarity.
Do aim to come in slightly under time. People will appreciate this and it will give you an added feeling of comfort.
Do ensure there is some leeway in your speaking time eg ‘between six and eight minutes, but no more’. Only TV presenters have to hit a precise ‘mark’ as they finish speaking. That is a whole skill in itself and is rarely required outside TV. If there is no leeway, then aim to come in under time, so giving yourself some leeway.
Do remember that “Firsts & Lasts’ are the most important parts of any presentation – they are what audiences remember. Furthermore, your opening is essential to engaging your audience and your close is where you send them away with your ‘big message’. If you run out of time, you lose the ability to deliver your big message or have to do it in a rush.
Do – ideally – include some content towards the end of your presentation that is ‘nice to have, but not essential’. That way, you have something that can be cut if, despite all your preparation, you are still running out of time. And your big finish can remain intact.
Finally, I was recently coaching a business presenter on the concept of message distillation and he thought for a moment, before saying: “I get it. Don’t tell them everything; just tell them what they need to know.” He had, indeed, got it.