Presentation Pruning: How Much To Chop?

by drjim on October 23, 2008

You Run The Risk Of Losing Your Audience When You Talk For Too Long

You Run The Risk Of Losing Your Audience When You Talk For Too Long

Congratulations! You’ve been asked to come and present for an hour on a topic that you know a lot about. However, you end up presenting for and hour and a half! Was this a generous gift that you provided and extra 30 minutes to your audience or was it a huge social mistake that you took up 30 minutes that weren’t yours to take? I believe that the correct answer is (b): if you run over your allotted time, then you’ve screwed up. What’s a presenter to do in order to fit into the available time?

Perhaps a quick discussion about why it’s such a great sin to run over your time is in order. Probably the #1 thing to realize here is that your audience will know if you exceed your time. Believe it or not, no matter how wonderful your presentation is they are probably already thinking about what they are going to do AFTER you get done. If you run over, then all of a sudden you’ve screwed up their plans and now they resent you for doing that. Going on and one and on really does not impress your audience. Instead, they are going to lose trust in what you are saying. They will start to think that if you didn’t take the time to make your presentation the right length, then there is a good possibility that you really don’t know what you are talking about in the first place.

So if we can agree that talking too long is a very bad thing, then what is a presenter to do? It’s time to do some editing. Now we are all in love with ourselves and how we present information so this can actually be quite difficult to do. One very good way to start the process is to stop for a moment and ask yourself “What am I really trying to accomplish with this speech?” Remember that the speech is not for you to look good, but rather to cause your audience to be changed in some way. What kind of change are you trying to cause? It’s a good thing to keep in mind that the audience is going to be sitting there thinking “What’s in this speech for me?”. If you can come up with an an answer to your question that also answers the audience’s question, then you will be in good shape.

Having successfully identified the core reason for giving your speech, now the hard work starts. The best way to determine how long your speech is going to take is to write it out. I personally struggle with this approach a bit because I prefer to outline my speech in order to keep it a little bit more dynamic. However, I do agree that knowing what words you are going to be saying is the best way to determine how long your speech will take.

There are a couple of different ways to shorten a speech. The simplest one is to just start dropping words. However, this won’t provide that much of a time savings. Instead, a much better approach is do what Darren La Croix who is a professional speaker does: collapse multiple sentences into a single sentence. This will allow you to reduce the time that your speech takes much quicker.

If after all of this, you find that your speech is STILL too long, then it’s time for some more drastic action. Take a look at the number of points that you are making in your speech. Do you have a list of ten things that you are talking about? If so then perhaps it’s time to cut that down to a list of 5 things. If it’s still too long, then keep on cutting. If you have stories in your speech, then perhaps it’s time to drop one or more of them. Stories take time to tell well and this can be a big time saver. The same thing goes for any examples that you are using in your speech – it takes time to lay out and explain an example well and so perhaps it needs to be dropped.

Finally, make sure that you practice. The greatest single factor that can cause a speech to go on too long is if the presenter did not practice his / her speech. This will come through loud and clear to your audience as they see you fumble with words, lose your place, and ramble on. Practice can help you make sure that you are able to present your speech and respect your audience’s time.

Have you ever overrun the amount of time that you had to deliver a presentation? Did anyone seem to care? Have you ever had to sit though a presentation where the speaker kept going on and on long after their time was up? How did this make you feel? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Get Applause Now! October 24, 2008 at 10:07 am

One of the “rules” of presenting is don’t overrun!

It’s very rare that I want the presenter to overrun unless of course it is Darren LaCroix!

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Dr. Jim Anderson October 26, 2008 at 4:59 pm

Full agreement here! The one thing that I didn’t point out is that everyone will love you (no matter how poorly you may have spoken) if you wrap things up early. It’s like you’ve given everyone the gift of some free time and that’s something that nobody can get too much of!

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Peter Bowler October 27, 2008 at 9:56 am

The time to edit your presentation is when you practise and rehearse. Here you should be on the lookout to pare your presentation material to the right level for the time available.
Peter
Presentation Skills

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Ian Griffin July 2, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Better than ‘pruning’ an over-long speech is to design a speech from the ground up around three core messages (three is the magic number, not 10 or 5. Don;t know why, it just is). Allocate 5 minutes to the introduction, 5 minutes to the conclusion and 15 minutes for each point. That will get you to 55 minutes which is the right amount of time to speak if you’re asked to present for an hour.

No-one ever complained that a speech was too short!

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Robert Buccino July 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm

“Always be shorter than anybody dared to hope!” Lord Reading, English politician

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