Insights + tips

How To Keep To Time When Presenting

Recently, I had to deliver a keynote presentation and in the agenda, I had 73 minutes!

The precision of this number (which meant it was an hour and a quarter, including a brief introduction and goodbye) reminded me of a conversation I had recently with someone who had to deliver a 45-minute presentation but found that she only got through a small part of her material and she asked ‘How do you prepare so that you can reliably finish on time?’

Here’s what I do:

1. Prepare the overall themes, and I always try to do this in threes. What are my three main points, takeaways, or main messages? If, at the last minute, someone said ‘You’ve only got 60 seconds’, what 3 things would I need to say?

2. I then ‘think modules’. For each of those 3 main points, I’ll prepare some supporting material – a story or two to make the point memorable, an interactive, educational segment to help people learn, some interesting data and some ‘Here’s how you can use this’ content.

Being ‘modular’ gives me flexibility – if I’m overrunning, I can drop one of the stories or ditch an interactive moment. If I’m running early, I can tell both stories etc.

3. I draw out a rough ‘map’ of the timings, and if I’m on stage, I’ll put it on a lectern, or on video call I’ll stick it on the wall behind my camera. I’ve given a template example in the photo, assuming a 45-minute presentation which begins at 14:00. No one else will ever see it, so it doesn’t have to look good, it just has to guide me in real time.

If, as in this example, I have 45 minutes to present, then I’ll allocate approximately 10 minutes to each main point, giving me 15 minutes for introductions, handouts questions, summary etc and a final message.

I hope you can see that this is very flexible and easy to follow, but also helps to keep me on track. I often draw this outline very close to the time of my presentation, so that it’s fresh in my mind, and allows for last-minute changes.

4. I prepare my ‘end message’ to be a very precise amount of time. You’ll notice in the photo that I’ve written ’14:43′ as the time of my end message. This helps in several ways. Psychologically, having a precise number helps me to be strict about time as I get very near to the end – there’s no room for flexibility this close to finishing! Secondly, it makes me prepare my ending carefully so that I can confidently know that when I begin, it will be almost exactly two minutes. For my ’73-minute presentation’, I prepared a 3-minute ending, which I began at the 70-minute mark.

This means that even if my timings have gone wildly off course (it happens!), as long as I begin my ending at the right point, I’ll still finish bang on time.

5. Lastly – I REHEARSE! I know all of my main points, stories, introductions, and end messages. This gives me the confidence to be able to change things in real time.

I hope that helps – let me know what you do?

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