January 26, 2008

Time vs. information

I'm working with a client who is scheduled to give a 12-minute industry presentation on a complex topic with lots of stats and data. She also has several great stories to illustrate her topic, activities for interaction with the audience, and good ideas for images for her PowerPoint.

But right now, her talk would take at least a half hour to deliver!

If she had an hour, she could delve deeper into her stats, break up the audience into groups for discussion, spend more time analyzing data, and give a more in-depth presentation.

But she doesn't have an hour, she has 12 minutes (although she thinks she can get away with stretching it to 15).

Short presentations like this one are notorious for being boring brain dumps. The speaker doesn't know how to condense all her knowledge into such a tight time frame, so decides to just throw everything out there, with no objective, no focus and no discipline.

The speaker is also frequently unprepared, thinking that such a short presentation doesn't merit the same groundwork that a longer one does.

Here's how we're approaching it:

1. Determine her objective. What does she want the audience to do as a result of her presentation?

2. Determine the key pieces of information/main points that will be relevant to the audience (and later, their clients).

3. Create a strong opening (in this case, using humor and interaction) to get the audience engaged quickly. At 8:30 in the morning, hearty laughter is unlikely, but a nice chuckle might help them wake up and get involved.

4. Recap with a strong message at the end, and use a call to action.

5. Then, when we have determined these basic factors, we break down each section by time. The opening will take about 1 minute. The closing might take 30 seconds. That leaves 10 1/2 minutes to divide up between 6 or 7 other segments. Is this realistic?

6. Once she has an idea of how long each section should take, based on what the audience really wants and needs to know and based on the data she chooses, then she can refine it by taking out entire sections or shortening the less important ones to make more time for the more critical information.

7. Start practicing with timing. Doing the presentation live will give a more accurate estimate of how much time each section, and the whole presentation, will take.

8. Continue refining until the presentation is down to 10-12 minutes. In front of an audience, she will likely go a little longer than she will practicing at home, so it's important to build in some padding.

This process is a little different than how I would plan for a long presentation; for a short one, time is more precious - how much info can your audience process in this amount of time? How much are you willing to let go?

Too much info and their heads are spinning and you've lost them, so keep it simple, ideally three points max, and practice, practice, practice!

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7 comments. Please add yours! :

Nick R Thomas said...

And there's so often the tendency during these short presentations for the speaker to waste precious seconds by saying something along the lines of 'Unfortunately there isn't time to tell you more in a presentation like this' or 'I wish we had longer' at regular intervals!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

LOL - that is SO true, Nick.

Rhett Laubach said...

Lisa, great post. I am actually currently coaching a client that only has 5 minutes and I have been trying to persuade him to follow many of your suggestions. Thanks for putting together a great "short-presentations" list.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's great, Rhett. I love the challenge of a short speech!

Matthew Cornell said...

Love the steps, Lisa. The only presentation I've put together is a full-day interactive workshop (!) I have some one-hour ones coming up, though.

Debbie Harris said...

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "I don't have time to write a short letter, so I'll write a long one instead." I think the worst thing that any speaker can do is underestimate the amount of time it will take to prepare a short presentation. I present often on technology topics, where I am faced with trying to present a tremendous amount of information in a little over an hour (and that doesn't even take into consideration time for questions). What I have found is that I can save a lot of talk time by posting links or examples on the web. I hand out out what I call a "one page wonder" at the beginning of my presentation with important points and links (since I'm trying to save a few trees here, too).

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's a great solution, Debbie. Save trees AND your audience's sanity!

Matt, I always prefer the longer workshops - the luxury of a whole day to expand or contract as necessary. Love it.

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