Presentation Skills I: Timing

How to keep to time during your presentation

Do you regularly go over time when you’re delivering a presentation? If a time limit has been set for your presentation, then it’s your responsibility to finish it within that time. Consider it as part of the contract between you and your audience.

Here are some tips to help you keep to time:

1. Decide on your “talking time”
You can’t keep to time unless you know beforehand how long you should be talking. Your “talking time” is different than the total time you’ve been given for your presentation as live presentations take longer than the rehearsal. This is because of you might start a couple of minutes late, you might take longer to make a point, and there may be other interruptions that delay you. Bear this in mind when rehearsing your speech.

2. Find out how long it takes to deliver your material
This is a prerequisite to being able to keep to time. Time yourself early on in your planning process. If you leave timing your presentation till the end of your planning process you’re likely to find that you’ve prepared too much material which will mean you have to edit your presentation or cut it short as you go. And as we all know, editing and cutting short can be agonizing when we’ve grown attached to our material.

3. Write a timed schedule for your presentation
When you do a final rehearsal, note down the time that each segment takes and then take that information to prepare a timed schedule. So say your presentation started at 3pm your schedule would look like this:
3 pm Opening
3.05 Part 1
3.15 Part 2
3.25 Part 3
3.35 Closing
3.40 Stop talking
This will mean that during the live presentation, you’ll be able to easily tell whether you’re keeping to time. Note that it’s not enough to know that each part takes 10 minutes. In the presentation itself you won’t have the head space available to calculate whether you’re ahead or behind.

4. Don’t waffle
Waffling is another reason that can make a live presentation go longer than the rehearsal. The antidote to this is proper planning. During your planning, write each point as a full sentence (not a bullet-point) which expresses what you want to get across. You may later reduce this to a keyword or phrase in your notes but you’ll have done the hard thinking required. Remember, it’s much better to do your thinking before, rather than during, the presentation.

5. Have a clock or timekeeper
You can’t manage your time unless you can see the time. And you can’t rely on every meeting or conference room having a clock, or having a clock with charged batteries in it. Have a small, but easily readable, travel clock that you can put on the lectern or even in front of you on the stage and make sure you can read it at a distance without your glasses on. Alternatively you might ask the moderator or the event organiser to regularly update you on how much time left you have.

6. Start on time
Many presentations go over time simply because they started late. Often that’s because the presenter or meeting organizer has decided to wait for late-comers. You may be concerned that people who are late will miss out on crucial information, so it’s advisable not to start with crucial material, but there is certainly no need to penalize those who came on time for keeping them wait. Instead open with a relevant and engaging story which leads into your first main point. The stragglers will come in while you’re telling your story.

7. Be ready to adapt
Despite all your advance preparations you may still run out of time. The solution is not simply to talk faster! Work out ahead of time what segment you will drop if this should happen. Make a note of the first slide number after the dropped segment. By keying in the number of that slide and then pressing ‘Enter’ you will jump straight to that slide. This is much more professional than clicking through your slides. Your audience need never know that you had to edit on the fly.

By Olivia Mitchell