Happy new year.  Finally we have reached a decade that we can confidently abbreviate after the awkwardness of the 2000s/noughties and the tens/teens. For that reason alone there is cheer to be arriving at 2020. It’s all about a question of timing… so it is apt that timing is the topic for this first article of the decade.

While timing may not be everything when it comes to effective presenting, it has a significant role to play nonetheless. If one has ever been cued up and ready to take the stage for an allotted speaking slot, only to see it pass as the speaker of the moment ignores their deadline, you will be aware of the sense of frustration of which I speak.

Good timing is a point of etiquette in speaking circles. While some speakers stand alone as the main event most will appear as part of the programme package and the first point to make is that an overrun has a knock on effect, often forcing some poor soul further down the line having to take a hatchet to their own presentation in order to bring the event in on time. 

In the first instance, bad timing is simply bad manners and trying to excuse it, often by announcing to the audience that ‘it looks as if I’m running out of time’, will only make things worse. So, what’s the reason for it? Based on personal experience are my top three overrun bugbears:

You haven’t prepared properly

So your 20 minute presentation actually weighs in at more like 30. A badly prepared presentation will waste precious minutes on meandering to the main point. It will also be tangled up by unnecessary ribbons of detail, usually added because a) it justifies your appearance as an ‘expert’ and b) it provides a buffer if the presentation is running too quickly.

What you should have done: Do not prepare a presentation for the full amount of time allocated.  Whatever the allocation, prepare for about 90% of that to allow for late starts, spur of the moment thoughts and random interruptions as well as ensuring you finish on time.  Everyone will love you.  Really.

You haven’t read it through

Technically this falls into the first category, but I have highlighted this point because it is such a basic crime to make and just so unavoidable. If you have just given a 20-minute presentation in 30 minutes, then I have one question: why didn’t you read it through, out loud and with a timer before you turned up on stage?

What you should have done: Rehearse out loud, at least 2 – 3 times, assuming that it goes smoothly, and more if it doesn’t. Time yourself. If it’s too long then edit, from the perspective of your audience, sections that are repetitive or lack relevance to the point you are making.

You threw together your Powerpoint Presentation

We all know the horror of a Powerpoint presentation assembled with little thought for the audience. In your mind it was there to support your presentation. In reality it has merged with your presentation so that you are reading the information on the slides as you go, despite the fact that your audience has clocked said information and digested it before you’ve even got to point number three. As you continue to read, precious time is ebbing away and the ultimate insult to an audience is when a speaker begins to just skip through several slides – it only illustrates just how disposable that visual presentation is. 

What you should have done: Prepare visual material that supports you (not the other way around). Make every slide count and ensure that each one adds something rather than mirroring exactly what you’re saying on stage.

If you are on course to overrun then have a convenient shortcut in place to nip your presentation in the bud and bring it in on time. I can assure you that you will be far more warmly received for sticking to the clock than making your audience feel like you’re wasting their time. So, if this is you, take a lead from the new decade and approach the twenties with a bit more roar in your presentation.