February 24, 2010

Is there enough white space in your presentation?



I have a client who's verbose. It's the first thing he told me when I asked him about his challenges with public speaking. But he didn't have to tell me; I couldn't get a word in edgewise in the first ten minutes of our conversation. He says he "hates it."

Here's one way to look at it. I know a lot of people who can never think of anything to say. When you can't think of anything to say, it's awfully hard to have a conversation! At least if you're verbose, you will never run out of things to say and ways to say them. You can always edit and cull, and there will be plenty of material.

How do you prepare a presentation if you're verbose?

1. The most critical factor is timing yourself. You need to get a sense of how long each section of your presentation will take in real time. You might think editing is the most critical factor. But it's hard to know how much to edit if you haven't timed yourself.

When you practice alone, you think you have all the time in the world. You usually practice yourself right up to the last second of the time frame you're working with.

You think, "This is great! I need to give a 20-minute presentation, and I'm right on the dot!"

Uh oh.

What happens when you get into the room and people start asking questions? What happens when you find yourself (verbose as you are) going off on a tangent or adding another story that you think the audience would like?

Now you've gone over and you have to rush to finish up. And you didn't even have time to make your last point or give a decent closing.

If you have 20 minutes, divide that up between your opening, your closing, your body (say, three main points) and Q & A. Suddenly, 20 minutes doesn't seem like very much time!

Practice your opening and time just that. Practice your closing and time just that. Time each of your points. Figure out how much time you need for just your most critical and important points. Edit, cut, and save the rest for another presentation. Write the times on your notes if that will help.

2. Create a time cushion when you practice.

Always finish early when practicing, and not by a minute, but by five minutes. That's how much you could be off by the end of the talk. Don't risk annoying your audience by keeping them late or letting them down by missing important information. If that means you need to keep cutting, keep cutting. You don't need to tell the audience everything you know.

3. Keep your eye on the clock. If going over is a concern for you, get yourself a countdown timer.

Instead of watching the clock or your watch, which takes up too much time as you do the math in your head, a countdown timer tells you exactly how much time you have left. No math, just quick answers!

Think of editing and culling your presentation like white space in graphic design. Designers know not to pack every millimeter of space with text or images. Not enough white space and a design looks cluttered and will be hard to read. White space allows the viewer or reader to have some breathing room, a break for the eyes between compositional elements. White space makes the document more aesthetically pleasing.

Think of your edits as allowing white space in your presentation. Breathing room for your audience. A break between ideas and thoughts, allowing them to process what they're hearing and learning.

It's not bad to be verbose; it can actually be useful in terms of having lots of content. Just make sure you leave enough white space around your words, and your presentation will be like a breath of fresh air!

2 comments. Please add yours! :

Michael Crosby said...

Thank you so much Lisa.

Last year, upon joining Toastmasters, it was difficult for me to speak for 1 minute on table topics.

Now I can just run my mouth. Blah, blah, blah. Boring and more boring.

I'm getting ready for my first competition. White noise. Great advice.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Michael! It's amazing how much we can fit into a minute, isn't it?

But remember: white space, not white noise!

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