June 2, 2010

Timing your presentation when incorporating activities

I recently wrote a blog post on timing your presentation taking into account that almost all presentations start late. This week, Olivia Mitchell wrote a great, thorough piece on timing in general, and so did TJ Walker. We're all thinking the same thing, apparently, after sitting through too many presentations that go long.

But here's something that none of us has addressed, and I want to make sure it's included.

The previous articles on timing have all assumed that our presentations consist only of talking, taking questions and dealing with occasional interruptions. But what about an interactive training or workshop with exercises and activities? This is pretty much the only kind of presentation I do, so I don't know how it slipped my mind to specifically address this issue.

I have several activities that I use during presentations. One is a variation on the "tappers and listeners" activity from "Made to Stick." One involves having the participants prepare and deliver a short presentation. One is a contest to see if the audience can guess the celebrity who has invented a list of analogies I read aloud. Another is a handout quiz on features vs. benefits. And there are more.

When you are practicing alone, it's difficult to guess how long an activity will take. You really don't know until you try it -- and even then, different audiences may get through the activity at different speeds. But you still have to estimate, so you don't take up too much time doing the activity and then leave out other important content.

I usually run through the activity alone and then tack on as much time as I think it will take, not just to complete the activity, but also to get people to focus back on the front of the room. There is always time lost in starting and ending an activity as people move out of and back into their seats or stop talking to their neighbors.

I also always have a backup plan. If I check my time and it seems that an activity will take too long in groups or pairs, I try to find a way to adapt the activity so I can do it from the front of the room as a full group exercise. If there is no way to do this, I might still describe the activity but not do it. Or, I just leave it out altogether. No one is the wiser.

The trick with activities is to have several variations so that they still fit into your time frame, but also to be flexible enough to let one go if necessary.

Don't forget to include practice time for your activities and exercises, imprecise though it may be. You'll get to know the activity over time and develop a gauge for how long it usually takes. But keep in mind that different audiences will be faster or slower in completing the exercise, so plan accordingly.

Previous Speak Schmeak posts on timing are here, here, here and here.

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

Olivia Mitchell said...

Hi Lisa

I agree that activities and exercises are very difficult to time accurately ahead of time. And then they're incredibly variable depending on the audience and the way that they interact with each other. I've noticed that if I'm working with a team of people who know each other well, exercises are likely to take longer.


Calla Gold said...

You've brought up a good point on this timing aspect of doing activities.
Sometimes to wake up a food-lethargy-induced apathy in your audience you need to impromptu-ly throw in an activity to get them moving and back on track. I think your input on practicing beforehand to have an idea how much time that'd take so you can trim your following segment is good advice.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for adding to the discussion, Olivia and Calla!

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