I’ve been in business teaching personal productivity skills to corporate employees for more than 20 years. Even if you don’t teach time management seminars, good time management is essential for a great presentation. Here are some time-tested guidelines that have worked for me:
1. Practice 10-to-1. For new presentations, you’ll spend at least 10 hours outlining, researching, and creating your presentation for every seminar hour. Thus, a new eight-hour seminar will take 80 to 100 hours to create. So prepare it at least one month in advance, and practice it several times before presenting it.
2. Plan for less. Content that you believe will take 10 minutes could take 20 when done live. Plan to use 45 to 50 minutes of material for each 60 minutes of platform or classroom time. Always plan to speak for less time than you anticipate, so you can leave room in your program for spontaneous stories, unanticipated conversations, and unexpected questions.
3. Prepare more. The above said, always have more material than you’ll need, just in case. Some presenters speed through their presentations due to nervous energy and end too soon. Check your breathing; if you are out of breath, you’re speaking too fast. Write the estimated time on each corner of your handout and practice your material enough that you can maintain the proper pace. At a conference, you could be asked to extend your time to “pinch hit” for a no-show speaker.
4. Meet participants. Your presentation begins before you speak and continues after you’re finished. Mingle for a few minutes and meet audience members before you’re introduced. When you present, you’ll key in on familiar faces, rather than complete strangers.
5. Tighten activity time. For group activities, allot less time than you think they’ll need. If you give 20 minutes for an exercise, they’ll wrap up quickly and leave to answer e-mails or make calls. Instead, give them six minutes to come up with 10 ideas, and they’ll get buzzing and creative.
6. Break at least every 90 minutes. Take a break every 60 minutes if the audience is seated theatre style; every 75 minutes for classroom style; and never go more than 90 minutes without a break. Adults’ attention spans wane as their bodies (and bladders) tire.
7. Start on time after breaks. If you start five minutes after you told the audience to return from a break, you’ll inadvertently train them to return five minutes late. Don’t punish the people who honored you by returning on time. I like to tell the first half of a great joke or story before a break, promising the ending after the break. Since watches and phones are set differently, give the length of the break rather than a time to return. Give odd numbers for break times for memorability, such as 12 or 17 minutes. Start right on time with the end of your story, refusing with a smile to tell it again to latecomers (they will ask friends later).
8. Stop on time. No matter how late you started. Ending late shows a lack of respect for your audiences’ next commitments, and you are sure to annoy your meeting planner or boss. Know exactly how long your close will take, and practice jumping to it from different parts of your presentation. Prepare several different versions of varying length and be able to drop a story or exercise and substitute a pithy quote instead.
9. Print your outline. If you’ve been allotted 60 minutes, and the speaker ahead of you goes over by 30 minutes, you’d better be able to deliver in 30 minutes. Print your PowerPoint slides in outline format, so that during presentation mode, you can type a slide number on your keyboard and hit enter to jump to that slide. If you click through the slides you won’t cover, participants will feel slighted.
10. Don’t rush out. When the session is over, stick around to chat with participants. Many people will ask questions they weren’t comfortable asking in the larger group. Others will tell you a personal story about a point you made or thank you for helping them. You always have time to hear that.
Laura Stack is president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., which provides workshops on personal productivity, time management, and peak performance. She’s the bestselling author of six books from major publishers, most recently, “Execution IS the Strategy” (www.executionisthestrategy.com). For more information, visit www.TheProductivityPro.com and connect at www.linkedin.com/in/laurastack.