A presentation should take as much time as it takes to do what it needs to and no longer. That, of course, assumes that that it needs to do is worth doing but let’s pretend that it is.
That said, it’s important to know how long your rehearsed presentation is going to take when you perform it live. The best way to find out, of course, is to give the presentation so that you know how long it will take the next time.
The second best way is to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You should do this anyway, of course – but many of my clients tell me they don’t have the time to do this. (I’m not sure I agree about that – I think there’s a different reason for most of them not rehearsing but that’s for an other blog.) So what we need, then is some rule of thumb to figure out how long an unrehearsed presentation is going to take.
(Note: delivering an unrehearsed presentation is asking for trouble – no professionals do it – so “caveat emptor” here!)
Timing Your Slides
Let’s assume you can go through your slides on the train, or on the plane as you travel to the conference. You flick through your slides, saying to yourself:
“Yes, I know what I’m going to say here.”
…and then pushing the ‘next’ button. The first absolute rule for figuring out how long your presentation will actually take is not to do this. Don’t say to yourself that you know what to say it – actually say it. Unless you want fellow passengers to think you’re very odd you’ll not be able to do this out loud, but you can do it silently at least.
The key thing is that your lips should move.
Because you think a heck of a lot faster than you speak. If you just say things in your head you’ll not get much of a clue about how long you’ll take to say it out loud. I’ve read various estimates of exactly how much faster you think than speak and the maximum I’ve ever seen is about tenfold!
Use Your Smartphone – Part One
Pretty much all smartphones these days have a stopwatch function with a lap timer facility. Use it. Time how long each individual slide takes. When you’ve gone through your slides, round each one up to the nearest quarter of a minute. That’s not always right for every slide but I’ve found that it averages out nicely. Rounding up allows for the time it takes to move from one slide to the next and (at least in part) to the fact that in real life you’ll speak more slowly than you do when you’re just going through the motions… or at least you should.
Use Your Smartphone – Part Two
Metronome apps are inexpensive…so get one!
This is a slightly artificial trick but it’s worked nicely with some of my clients. When you’ve got a moment to spare, give a practice presentation. It’s easier if you can get a friend to help you here, but it can be done on your own if you need to… set the metronome going and play with it until you find the approximation to your normal delivery rate. For what it’s worth, mine is quite fast at around 120 words per minute.
Once you’ve got that sorted out, the rest is easy… The next time you go do the silent rehearsal (step one, above), you can set the metronome to your usual speed and plug your headphones to your ear. That way you’ll be kept much closer to your ‘real’ delivery tempo and you’ll have a much better idea of how long your presentation will run for.
But don’t forget – nothing beats ‘proper’ rehearsal.
(Photo credit: Clock via Shutterstock)
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