You're the third speaker for a morning briefing. You're scheduled to come on at 11:20 AM, just before lunch. The first speaker is the VP of Sales and Marketing. He has lots of funny stories and runs over by 15 minutes. The second speaker is the VP of R&D. She drills down into the technical issues, gets in debates with engineers in the audience, loses track of time and goes over by 20 minutes. You look over at the director who is hosting the meeting only to see a look of hopeless despair on his face.
At 11:50, he announces your presentation.
What do you do?
- Throw up
- Talk really fast (making 'em drink from a fire hose)
- Keep 'em till 12:30 (running up against hungry bellies and full bladders)
- Dump 3/4 of your talk and end on time.
Correct answer: #4.
Timing is the invisible success factor for presenters. I was recently invited to do a short program for senior trainers on the topic of "How To Control Timing?" I asked the group to come up with strategies that have worked for them. Here are some of their comments in six distinct areas:
- Pre-Planning & Audience Buy-In
- Interview a sampling of your audience in advance of the talk.
- Hone in on the specifics of their needs, their concerns, and interests. Ask them, given the topic, the critical things they would want to know. When you know what they want, you get focus and you’re not likely to go into the weeds.
- At the outset of the meeting, state your plan. When you state a plan out loud, you tend to stick to it.
- Get agreement from the group on time constraints and agenda topics. This sets the stage to stay on track to meet the group objectives.
- Use "In-the-Moment" strategies
- Have someone else be the timekeeper to supply signals for timing.
- Depending on the culture and expectations, hold questions until the end.
- If you have questions throughout the presentation, remember a question is meant to be on-point and specific. Speakers get in trouble with rambling answers to questions.
- Have a built in clock on your computer so you track the timing for each module.
- Bring the agenda slide back into the presentation to chart progress and inform the audience.
- Modularize your content
- In advance of the talk, plan how much time for each module. Allow time for the opening and closing remarks. Plan for dialogue and discussion. Map out the entire presentation.
- If timing becomes an issue, jettison parts of the presentation and the audience will never know.
- Use the 75% rule. (Prepare enough material for about 75% of the presentation of the allotted time. This should allow for starting late, and unexpected interruptions.)
- Get a strong MC (Master of Ceremonies)
- Most timing issues stem from the fact that the person who is running the meeting is not strong enough to jump in and stop rambling, out-of-control presenters. The MC may be too intimidated to take control. Work with your MC in advance to understand the entire context of the day.
- If you are going through the material for the first time, your timing is going to be off—almost guaranteed. Practice the modules while commuting.
- Have trusted colleagues be a sounding board through rehearsals. Is the material relevant and focused? Do I answer questions succinctly? Is the logic clear?
- Know your opening and closing—as well as your transitions. The framework keeps you on track.
- Have a Plan B
Related Blog Post: 15 Tips: How to Prepare for A Last Minute Presentation