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Presentation Skills:  8 Tips to Get the Timing Right on Your Next Talk

Have you ever attended a large conference where the speaker went over the allotted time?  The room begins to empty. The survivors that remain seated look trapped and angry. The frustrated event planner looks helpless as if watching a runaway trainer.

People are busy. They have places to go, people to see, things to do.  Never make the mistake of going over time.  Here are 8 tips to get the timing just right:

1.       Clarify your allotted time—with several people, several times.  I can’t tell you how many times a client has hired me for a “one-hour keynote” that in reality turned out to be 45 minutes. That’s after the meeting planner made announcements, then showed photos from the previous night’s party, then introduced the CEO.  Then the CEO overviewed the goals of the 2-day meeting and turned the program over to the emcee, who finally introduced me. When told the allotted time, make sure you clarify what else is happening during before you start your presentation.

2.       Plan your agenda to the Nth degree.   You can’t possibly know how long your presentation will take until you’ve actually expressed your thoughts aloud.  As a general rule, a page of script double-spaced equals about two minutes.

3.       Do a dress rehearsal.  Talk it and walk it.  A mental walk-through won’t do.  Display the slide and pause a moment for the audience to take it in. Add gestures as you explain things.  Walk across the room where appropriate to pick up a prop or demo a product.  These things often double the length of a mental rehearsal.

4.       Time each block separately.  Record and memorize the times for each block and subset of information.  Let’s say point three on your outline looks like this:

Option B: Lease more space in the Bryner Building.   (7:00)

                –Benefits of relocating  (3:00)

                –John Schisher incident  (2:00)

                –Costs  (2:00)

The whole point takes seven minutes.  If you left out Option B entirely, you could cut your talk by seven minutes.  If you need to cut only two minutes, you could omit the story about John Schisher and his views on this lease.

5.       Have a buffer in your back pocket.   Never punish audience members who arrive on time by making them wait for late arrivers. But what about the situation when your key decision makers are the late arrivers?  Have something planned for the opening that allows you to start officially—but gives you a little time until your most important members are in the room to state your most important message such as a key finding, conclusion, or recommendation.

6.      Plan a stretcher toward the end. To avoid ending unexpectedly early and leaving your audience feeling disappointed or cheated that you didn’t deliver full value, plan “bonus” material that you can add toward the end of your presentation.  Ideas:  Mention resources for further reading.  Highlight ways to practice what they’ve learned.   Explain how to assess mastery of the skill/topic you’ve been discussing.  Call for personal experiences relating to your topic. Ask how they plan to apply principles you’ve presented or information you’ve shared. Ask for feedback about the information you’ve presented.

7.       Start on time.  If you’ve rehearsed, nothing helps you end on time like starting on time.

8.     Adjust as you go.  As you move through the blocks on your outline, notice if you are running behind.  When that’s the case, eliminate that many minutes from the next sections. Simply talking faster is not the answer.  Adjust on the fly.

As with investing, timing can make all the difference in your speaking success.

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