July 21, 2008

Don't waste time talking about time

A speaker whose presentation I attended the other day said, right off the bat, "This is information I normally cover in a full-day workshop, so I'm going to try to get through a lot of stuff in 20 minutes," or something like that.

She didn't say it just once. In the course of her 20-minute presentation, she mentioned that she didn't have enough time about five times.

The irony of this? She's a professional organizer, someone who teaches other people how to organize their space and time.

Similar to the issue of apologizing at the beginning of your talk, there are several reasons why it's not a good idea to tell your audience you don't have enough time.

1. You waste time talking about all the time you don't have.

2. If you're a professional organizer, you look like you don't practice what you preach. If you're not a professional organizer, you still appear not to have your act together.

3. The audience couldn't care less about how much information you would like to cover. They're there for the information you will cover.

4. The audience perceives you as in a hurry or even panicky and not giving your full attention to the material at hand.

5. You diminish the value of the presentation you are currently giving when you appear to be promoting your "better" presentation.

We all have infinitely more information in our heads than we are ever able to share in a presentation, whether it's a ten-minute quickie or a three-day retreat.

One way to deal with this is to have several versions of your talk that fit into several time slots. If your topic is too vast to fit into a ten-minute time slot (and whose isn't?), pick one area to speak about.

I can't tell you everything about public speaking in ten minutes, but I can easily give a brief talk on storytelling, benefits vs. features, putting your audience first, relaxation, fear and anxiety, authenticity or one of a hundred other mini-topics. I can pick three general points about speaking, such as organization, delivery and anxiety, and give a 2-minute overview of each one in my ten-minute talk. And I can even fit in some audience interaction.

It's not about cramming everything you know into a time slot. It's about picking the right information for that audience that fits the time you have.

If you do have a longer workshop that you're marketing, then that's a different situation and you'll be wanting to tempt the audience with what more you can offer them. But in that case, this shorter presentation is now a "taste" of what you get in the longer presentation. It's not "less than" or deficient in any way.

Don't talk about how you wish you had more time, or how you're shortchanging your audience with a shorter presentation than usual, or how much more information you usually give.

Be with your audience, in the moment, with the presentation you're giving. You can always give value, no matter the timeframe.

(The speaker also mentioned how she normally uses PowerPoint to keep her on track, but that's a rant for another day.)

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

The only time I talk about time in my presentations is when an audience member asks a question that is either way off topic or way too complicated to get into at the moment. I let that person know that it's a good question, but one I don't have time to get into at the moment and that they're welcome to come talk to me afterwards or contact me in the future.
Lisa, do you think that it's ok to talk about time in that context?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Kari, in the context you bring up, it's perfectly appropriate to say that there's not enough time to give a detailed answer to the person's question and offer to talk to them afterward.

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