Presentation Tips – It’s all about timing

As a Technical Evangelist I have a lot of opportunities to speak to small and large groups of people. This could be online (webinars & blogging etc.) or in person with customers as well as at events and conferences. What I’m getting at is I get to do a fair bit of presenting. I am by no means a “professional presenter” keynoting large conferences (quite the opposite), but I have picked up a few tips (sometimes the hard way) that I’d like to share. I hope this will grow as a series of posts on the subject.

The first is about timing which in regards to presenting I’ll break into two key areas: cadence & time management.

Cadence

Too fast? Too slow? Or just right? You might not have picked up on this but go back and watch a great presentation and notice how deliberate the speakers are and the cadence at which they speak; there is flow and there is confidence.

Too slow … long pauses

If you speak too slowly or take too many long pauses you can project a sense of not being confident or knowledgeable, also you run the risk of your audience losing interest. Someone who is naturally a fast talker might try and force themselves to slow down (too much) which will come off as unnatural and possibly distract the audience.

Taking long pauses between slides could be a result of not knowing what is coming next, or having to refresh your talking points.

I suggest playing to your natural speed. I can talk too fast, especially on a topic I’m passionate about. So to ensure I land my key points I’ll often introduce “key takeaway” slides/points to ground the message; a key practice that I’ll discuss in another post.

Practice practice practice

Rehearsal of your presentation and knowing what is coming up next will help you keep a proper cadence. Mastering the “Presenter View” in PowerPoint will certainly help. I use this to quickly glance at what is coming up next before I move to the next slide so I can continue my talk without pausing and looking at the next slide, this helps keep a smooth uninterrupted rhythm.

How much should you rehearse your presentation? There is no golden rule, however for myself I like to do at least 4 full rehearsals. I often tell my team that for any 1-hour presentation I’ve likely got 8+ hours into preparation.

Round 1

Here I’ll read the slides & speaking notes out loud in full. Anytime I stumble or don’t like the cadence/wording I write down a quick note, but I keep going. It’s important to read/speak out loud, you will be surprised at how something you say in your head can sound totally different or just wrong out loud.

Round 2

After reviewing my notes and editing the presentation as necessary, I then do a compete run through ideally too many interruptions or stumbles, but a few times I will still need to make a change/clean up a point etc.

Round 3

Here I like to do a “dress rehearsal” (more on this in another post) but essential, I stand up, I walk around, I use my presenter remote, and I try not to look at my slides. You should practice as if it was the real deal.

Round 4+

TI will repeat the “dress rehearsal” as often as needed until I’m entirely comfortable with the talk and feel the flow/rhythm and content are all dialed in. However, the night before I will always do another run through or two of my presentation.

I don’t read from a teleprompter

I never write down my entire talk. I’ll put in only the most crucial points in the speaking notes. This is because I rarely give the same talk more than a few times or if I do I rarely say exactly the same things the same way. I focus on the key points that I want to land. My goal is to feel comfortable with the content an able to tailor it as needed to the audience.

Too fast or too much?

Have you ever just had so much content that you need to power through it so you can complete? I have, it’s horrible, both for you and your audience, trust me. You will rush over points or entire slides, not land key messages and worst of all your audience will feel like they are “drinking from the firehose” (an expression I hear a lot at Microsoft).

Look over your slides, are there more than 3 points? Do you think anyone will remember them? Are they really that important?

If my goal is to land a key message then that is all I include on the slide, in really big font, ideally with a funny or relevant photo as a backdrop.

It’s very common when giving a presentation to include all the information, you can easily justify this as providing context or background on a subject. I challenge you to ask yourself is it all really necessary? Can it be provided as addendum? Are you there to teach or to inspire them to research the topic further? What do you really want them to remember?

Time Management

Want to really piss off an event organizer? Go over your allotted time, heck why not cut right into lunch or worse yet the next speakers time? How many of us have heard “I’ll try and get this back on track” or “we’ll skip the next break” or “lunch will be shorted to 15 minutes…”.

I’ve gone over my time before so I say this knowing I’m being hypocritical, but going over your time is one of the worst sins you can commit as a presenter!

Look it’s pretty simple, if you are given 10 minutes prepare for 6, 30 minutes? prepare for 20, an hour? a 45-minute talk should be the MAX. I think you get the idea…

I was part of an event that went over by a full hour! Why? The speakers all went over, I think I was the only one that came in under time and was able to field some Q&A.

I stress more over shorter talks than longer ones. It’s difficult to give an impactful presentation in 10 – 20 minutes. This is why I love TED talks so much, these people are inspirational and concise (not to mention amazing storytellers)!

At the end of the day it’s about respect. Respect for your audience, respect for the poor event organizer panicking trying to keep things to a finely tuned schedule and respect to the other speakers. So please, PLEASE never start your talk with “we have a lot to cover here so let’s try and get through it all”.

Again, practice, practice, practice. I am not content until I can deliver my talk, cold, without looking at notes and well under my allotted time.

@marc_gagne

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