Your Presentation Timing is Key!
“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two-thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”– Abraham Lincoln
Which speaker would you enjoy listening to more, one who goes overtime or finishes early? My guess is it would be the one who finishes early.
This brings up the question of timing in your presentations. You should view the time you allot for your presentation as inviolable. There should be no circumstances that require you to go over time.
So, how do you prevent your presentations from going overtime? The answer is to divide and conquer.
Divide your presentation into an opening, body, and closing, time them separately, watch your overall presentation time, and practice, practice, practice so you can be assured you can achieve the correct timing consistently.
Presentation Opening and Closing Timing
You know, in your opening, you must grab the attention of your audience quickly. If you don’t, your presentation will not be successful.
You also know in your closing, you have to deliver a summary of your presentation, a call to action so your audience knows what to do with the information you have provided, and, finally, a vivid way your audience can remember and implement your presentation message.
So, what should be the percentage of time you spend delivering your opening and closing. Well, if your openings and closings are the “slices of the bread” in your presentation, your presentation body is the “meat.” So, you do not want to spend an excessive amount of time delivering your openings and closings because, if you do, you are diminishing your message time – your presentation body. It is a zero-sum game.
My rule of thumb is to spend 80% of your presentation on the body of your presentation. Therefore that leaves 10% each for your opening and closing.
Using a story in your opening, closing, or both, you may have to go up to 15% of the time each for your opening, closing, or both. Anything over 15% of the time each of your allotted presentation time spent on your opening, closing, or both will take away from your presentation message, which is why your audience has come to see you in the first place. Don’t disappoint them by delivering excessively timed openings and/or closings.
So, you have to be quick in your openings and closings while fulfilling their purposes.
Now we come to your presentation body timing.
Presentation Body Timing
You should spend 70% to 80% of the allotted time for your presentation on the body.
You know that your presentation body should have three main points. Again, not to “beat a dead horse,” but the reason for this is your audience, and you can easily remember three main points.
If you have less than three main points, your audience will likely feel there was insufficient information in your presentation. Conversely, suppose you have more than three main points. In that case, you will deemphasize your presentation’s main points making your presentation less memorable while at the same time confusing your audience on just what are your main points and thus, diluting your message.
For more on why three main points are essential in your presentation body, please refer to one of my previous blogs: “Increase Your Influence Using The “Rule Of Three!”
Just like you divided the timing of your presentation among your opening, body, and closing, the timing of your three main points should be divided into three points. The difference here is you will divide your body equally into three parts.
You may be asking yourself, “Why does the timing of your three main points have to be equally divided?” Good question. Here’s the answer:
The amount of time you spend on each main point indicates the importance of each main point to your audience. If you spend three minutes on one main point and six minutes on another, it is logical for your audience to place more importance on the six-minute main point.
After practicing your presentation, if you still have a disparity in the time you spend on main points, this could be for two reasons. Either the main point with the lesser time is not a main point, or you are just spending more time than is needed on the main point with more time. In this circumstance, re-create your main points so they are of equal importance, and take out any material after making a particular main point.
Overall Presentation Timing
We’ve taken a “divide and conquer” view of your presentation timing by exploring the timing for your openings, closings, and presentation body. Let’s now talk about a macro view of the overall timing of your presentation.
Of course, the timing of the parts of your presentation (i.e., opening, body, closing) make up your presentation’s total timing. Just as there are timing rules for the individual parts of your presentation, there are overall timing rules you must follow.
Earlier, we said there should be no circumstances that require you to go over time. This is an ironclad rule you should always follow. You may not be asked to come to speak again at the particular venue if you go overtime. It is not worth it, even if you have not covered all your material. Having additional material to cover when your time for your presentation is up indicates you have not practiced enough. Remember, timing is everything!
You may find yourself on a program with other speakers. My guess is most of the other speakers are not watching their timing as closely as you are. Like airline flights getting more delayed as the day goes on, the later you are on in the program, the chances you will have to reduce your presentation time increases. What should you do?
The time to solve this challenge is in your presentation preparation, not during your presentation delivery.
I wrote a previous blog entitled “What Is Your Plan “B?” This blog talks about creating a Plan B for specific things that can go wrong in your presentation. One of those things is going overtime.
First off, the time you need to practice your presentation by yourself or even in front of a practice audience will be less than the time you will need in front of an audience. Why is this? As the audience is reacting to you during your presentation, you will also be reacting to your audience.
Your reactions to your audience’s facial expressions, applause, and general audience rumbling will cause you to take small unintended pauses in your presentation. These small unintentional pauses are all part of the total time allotment for your presentation and will extend your presentation time.
There is a simple way to solve this in most cases. First, when you plan the timing of your presentation, design the total time for your presentation for 80% to 90% of your allotted time.
Remember, your audience will love you if you deliver an excellent presentation and finish early. Do you think they will love you if you go over time even after delivering an excellent presentation? You know the answer.
So, how do you prevent your presentations from going overtime? The answer is to divide and conquer. Divide your presentation into your opening, body, and closing time and practice them separately, watching your overall presentation time and practice, practice, practice to ensure you can achieve the correct timing consistently.
Timing really is everything!
Call to Action
While preparing your presentation, divide and conquer by allotting individual timing of your presentation to the opening, body, and closing
Practice your presentation openings, body, and closings separately according to the timing for the particular part of your speech
Practice your presentation timing for 80% to 90% of your allotted time to account for the small pauses due to your audience reacting to you and you reacting to your audience.
“You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go”– Yogi Berra
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 through 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”