Does Your Presentation Expand to Fill the Void?
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. General recognition of this fact is shown in the proverbial phrase ‘It is the busiest man who has time to spare.”– C. Northcote Parkinson, British historian and author
Parkinson’s first law says, “Work expands to fill the time available.” Your job as a speaker is to break Parkinson’s first law. Any presentation you deliver will expand to fill the time available unless you take precautions to prevent this.
Does your presentation expand to fill the time available? If you practice your presentation to fill all the time available, there is a good chance you will go over time.
When I advise my clients on presentation preparation, I always tell them to plan on speaking for six or fewer minutes every seven minutes of the time available.
Below are three good reasons why you should do this.
Do you practice your presentation with or without a practice audience? If you don’t, there is a good chance you will go over the available presentation time. Why is this?
When you deliver your presentation before a live audience, they will react to your presentation. Of course, you want your audience to respond to your presentation, but your audience’s reaction and your reaction to their reaction take time. This shows they are engaged and concentrating on your message.
This is time you probably did not allocate during your practice sessions. But it is still time for which you need to account in the time available for your presentation. I have never delivered a presentation that was not longer than when I had practiced it. Going into your practice sessions, knowing this is vital.
You can use your audience’s reaction to your presentation to your advantage. Audience reaction comes with sound and body language, including facial expressions. These give clues to how your presentation is affecting them. You can use these sound and body language clues to self-correct your presentation as you are delivering it.
So, the bottom line is although you want your audience to react to your presentation, this takes time which you need to plan for when you are practicing your presentation.
What about your faux pas during your presentation?
Your Faux Pas
Even polished speakers are not immune from errors in their grammar, repeated words, distracting mannerisms, etc. These presentation faux pas take time away from your presentation’s available time.
You can reduce your presentation faux pas, but you probably cannot reduce them to zero. Accept this as a given. So, how can you reduce your presentation faux pas to a minimum?
The answer to how to prepare for audience questions is to practice encountering the questions in your practice sessions. That is not an “out of the box” answer, but it is reality.
One of the best things you can do in your practice sessions is to record yourself. Then you have to do what makes most speakers cringe. You have to view the recording. Look at viewing your recording as you are looking at and hearing a completely different person. Evaluate that person as you would evaluate any other person’s presentation.
List on your computer or paper all the things needing to be corrected in the person’s presentation as you view the recording. Select one or two items to correct. Then, deliver your presentation during practice again, working on correcting the two faux pas you selected. When you have practiced correcting the two selected faux pas, choose two more and work on correcting those and so on.
If you take on correcting everything at once, you will be disappointed in your performance. Taking on more than two faux pas to correct will confuse you and fix nothing. It is too big a chasm to leap across.
Your practice presentations must still fix the previous faux pas you corrected.
So, faux pas take up time in your presentation. Ensure you allot time for these in your practice presentations. Remember how you practice your presentation; the last time is how you will deliver it.
So, you know your audience’s reactions, and your presentation faux pas take time, the time you can ill afford in your presentation.
These time sinks are somewhat under your control. The audience question and answer period is “another story.”
Audience Question and Answer Period
The audience question and answer period is somewhat out of your control and somewhat in your control. Does this sound like a dichotomy? Read on to see why I say this.
The question and answer period is somewhat out of your control because even though your practice audience will ask you every question they can think of, there could still be an audience question you have not heard before; not likely, but possible.
In the instance where you have not heard an audience question before, stop a few seconds and then repeat the audience question. Believe it or not, this gives you time to think about the question and create an answer. However, sometimes even this will not help you with creating an answer.
In this case, the best thing to do is quickly admit you do not know the answer, and if the questioner sees you during the break, you can get their e-mail address and send them a reaction back to them within twenty-four hours.
What about the long-winded question? The best thing to do in this circumstance is to ask the questioner politely to state their question succinctly.
What you have control over in the question and answer period are the number of questions you will accept and how you answer those questions.
Like in a court of law, you should answer only the audience’s question and nothing more. Then be quiet and wait for the following audience question.
After every time you answer an audience question, always ask the questioner whether you have adequately answered the question. If you haven’t, you will never be sure you have, and you may create a disgruntled audience member if you didn’t.
So, you now know your presentation has time sinks, like audience reactions, faux pas, and the question and answer period.
To solve a problem, you have to define the problem. If you account for these time sinks during your practice, you should have no problem meeting the time available for your presentation.
Don’t have your presentation expand to fill the void!
Call to Action
Realize your audience’s reactions take presentation time. Ensure you practice this time delay and your reaction to your audience’s reactions in your presentation practice.
The time to reduce your presentation faux pas is during your presentation practice. First, record yourself giving the presentation to uncover all your faux pas. Then, realize you will not be able to reduce them to zero.
Practice fielding questions from your audience. Ensure, to the best of your ability, that you never field an audience question you have not heard before.>/p>
“The man who is denied the opportunity of taking decisions of importance begins to regard as the important the decision he is allowed to take.”– C. Northcote Parkinson, British historian and author
Frank DiBartolomeo is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and award-winning speaker, presentation and interview skills coach, and Professional Member of the National Speakers Association. He was awarded Toastmasters International’s highest individual award, Distinguished Toastmaster because of his outstanding work in public speaking and leadership.
Frank formed DiBartolomeo Consulting International (DCI), LLC (www.speakleadandsucceed.com) in 2007. The mission of DCI is to help technical professionals to inspire, motivate, and influence their colleagues and other technical professionals by improving their presentation skills, communication, and personal presence. Reach Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org and (703) 509-4424.
Don’t miss Frank DiBartolomeo’s latest book!
“Speak Well and Prosper: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Better Presentations”
Available now at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com