How Good is Your Speaking Timing?
“It doesn’t matter how elegant the argument or inspiring the prose, a presentation won’t move anyone if the presenter isn’t visibly feeling what they are saying.”– John Neffinger
As a speaker, have you ever thought about your speaking timing? Timing is crucial in your presentations – overall timing and the timing of different parts of your presentation
This article asks and then shows you how to answer three questions
Do you devote the majority of your time to your presentation body?
Do your main points get equal time?
Do you divide and conquer to stay within time limits?
Do You Devote the Majority of Your Time to Your Presentation Body?
Your presentation is divided into three major parts: opening, body, and closing. One of my most common recommendations when I evaluate presentations, is to develop and present openings and closings more fully.
Some speakers take this to heart and construct elaborate openings and closings, including quotes, startling statistics, personal stories, and much more.
However, preparing a presentation including openings and closings is what I call a zero-sum game. You have only “x” number of minutes for the opening, body, and closing together.
Your opening is crucial to setting the stage for your presentation. Your closing is your chance to make the presentation memorable for your audience. However, the body of your presentation is the “meat” of your presentation and what your audience has come to hear and absorb.
My rule of thumb is your presentation openings and closings should at most be 10% of your total presentation time.
If your presentation is ten minutes, your opening and closing should take no more than one minute each
If your presentation is fifteen minutes, your opening and closing should take no more than one and one-half minutes each
And, if your presentation is twenty minutes, your opening and closing should take no more than two minutes each.
In each of these examples, your opening and closing will take no more than 20% of your total time, leaving 80% of the time devoted to the “meat” of your presentation, the body.
Remember, the body of your presentation is what your audience came to hear.
But, how should you divide the time at the next level down in the body of your presentation?
Do Your Main Points Get Equal Time?
Your three main points (Remember the Rule of Three?) should be of equal importance in the body of your presentation.
It turns out that human nature will put more importance on items for which you spend more time.
If you spend substantially more time on one or two main points, the remaining main point will be relegated to less importance in the minds of your audience members.
In a ten-minute presentation with eight minutes for the body of your presentation, you should spend two and one-half to three minutes on each main point.
In a fifteen-minute presentation with thirteen minutes for the body of your presentation, you should spend four to four and one-half minutes on each main point.
In a twenty-minute presentation with eighteen minutes for the body of your presentation, you should spend five and one-half to six minutes on each main point.
The point here is to divide the time between your main points evenly.
There may be a situation where the time for one or two of your main points is appreciably less than the estimated time. In this circumstance, you may want to question whether this (these) main point(s) is (are) main points.
The converse situation happens where the time for one or two of your main points is appreciably more than the estimated time. Here, you may have two main points in one. However, even in this case, the discipline of only three main points will produce a better presentation.
Always be willing to adjust your main points to be approximately the same time.
So, you want to ensure the body of your presentation gets at least 80% of the allotted time, and each main point is approximately the same.
How do you plan the timing of these parts of your presentation, so you don’t exceed the overall presentation time limit?
Do You “Divide and Conquer” to Stay Within Time Limits?
When I start developing a presentation, I use the “divide and conquer” approach. This “divide and conquer” approach can best be explained through a story of my high school days in electronics shop.
We had a great time troubleshooting car radios, desktop radios, and TVs. My electronics shop teacher, Mr. Hauber, taught us the best way to troubleshoot a piece of electronic equipment is to “divide and conquer.” So we made sure one part of the equipment could function adequately and then troubleshot the next part. Eventually, we found the root problem, which we then went on to solve.
When developing your presentations, I recommend using this “divide and conquer” approach. For example, you can subdivide each of your presentations into the following main parts:
Main Point #1
Main Point #2
Main Point #3
You have “x” number of minutes for the presentation. You know that the opening and closing should take less than 20% of the total presentation time. You also know your main points should be divided amongst the remaining 80% of the allotted time.
Then develop each part separately and practice it to the timing allotted to it. You are probably saying, “Easier said than done.” You’d be right. However, anything worthwhile will take a bit of work. It is important to remember three things.
First, you must fight the urge to become discouraged if things do not seem like they are going as fast as you believe they should. The old saying, “Rome was not built in a day.” applies here. The important thing is to start early, so you have time to adjust.
Second, you must be brave enough to change what you need to change to make the presentation flow better.
Third, you must have transitions between your opening and your first main point, between your main points, and between your last main point and your closing. Everything you say in your presentation takes time, including transitions, so ensure you account for this.
There will come a time when you will need to “fish or cut bait.” You must eventually converge on the final presentation with its good points and flaws. But, remember, your audience does not know what those flaws are, so don’t tell them!
Finally, your presentation will always take more time being presented to a live audience than when you are practicing by yourself. This occurs because your audience’s reaction will cause you to delay the next thing you want to say slightly.
The best thing to do here is to plan your presentation for not more than 90% of your allotted time. You will be a hero if you finish your presentation early and a goat if you don’t.
There you have it. Some of my best advice on presentation timing is to ensure the body of your presentation gets at least 80% of your allotted time and the time for each main point is approximately the same. Also, use the “divide and conquer” strategy to design the content of your presentation.
Timing is everything!
Call to Action
Through presentation practice, ensure 80% of your allotted time is for the body of your presentation
Through presentation practice, ensure your main points get equal time approximately
Use the “divide and conquer” method to design your presentation
“Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking.”– John Maynard Keynes
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, in 2002 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 through improving their presentation skills, communication, and personal presence. Frank can be reached 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”