How many times have you been told you should present for X minutes, then give the audience Y minutes to digest what you presented? In an introductory Communication class, I shared with my students they should present for no more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time, then provide the audience with an opportunity to interact with the information shared, but I was not ready for this question from a student: "How do you usually keep track of the time without always looking at your watch?"
I thought, "Hmm ... That's a valid question!" I had not realized up until that point there is a number of techniques all connected to increments of time that I subconsciously use in an effort to give audience members the experience I would want to have if I was in their shoes, and I have now consciously listed them here ...
1. Have a secret clock. I do not wear my watch on my wrist while I present. Most of the time, I remove my watch and place it on a table near my presentation area where my laptop, notes, and/or other materials are positioned. It is bulky anyway and tends to "get in my way" as I gesture and move about the room. (And if you are so fortunate to present in a room with a clock in the back, even better!) Before I begin speaking, I glance at the time and know I have 10 minutes to talk. When it feels like 10 minutes have elapsed, I casually make my way back over to the watch to glance down at it for confirmation. It does not necessarily appear as if I am looking at my watch but rather that I am possibly consulting some notes or something on my laptop. If you are not crazy about removing your watch, do what one of my colleagues does: She purchased for herself one of those small, travel clocks and positions it like I position my watch when she presents.
2. Refocus your energy when necessary. If you see much of the audience is starting to get bored, even if your 10 minutes have not expired, then it means you need to shift gears. You should stop what you are doing at the moment, which is likely talking, and ask a question, have everyone engage in a one-minute conversation about what you just covered, stand, and stretch ... you have to change the flow and change it fast! If you don't, then you are suggesting your message is not important enough to ensure it is not going in one ear and out the other. And this leads to my next point ...
3. It is not a hard and fast rule that you MUST present for only 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Do not hold yourself to speaking for only 10 minutes. Sometimes you may go longer than that; other times you may speak for fewer than 10 minutes at a time. Let the vibe from the audience steer the direction in which you go and dictate for how long you speak at any given time, but do not take all direction from the audience. Know what message you must get across, and make that happen. Avoid, at all cost, allowing the audience to derail you. As long as the audience is engaged and learning, and you end on time at the conclusion of the presentation, that is all that matters. It is not absolutely imperative you cover every single point that I planned to cover, and as long as you do not make a big announcement that you did not cover an item, the audience does not know or feel it missed out on anything.
4. Have the audience spend 3 to 5 minutes doing something with the information you shared. You have a goal of sharing information, but you should also have a goal of moving the audience to action, too. You want everyone to be able to do something new or better after having spent time with you. As such, after you present/lecture/discuss for 10 to 15 minutes, have the audience spend 3 to 5 minutes engaging with that material you presented. You can do so by asking questions that behaviorally and cognitively move the audience - questions that get the audience to think about new actions it can perform as a result of your presentation and how well they understand what the information you shared means for them. And just as is the case with you speaking for 10 to 15 minutes, the same goes for the 3-5 minutes of audience interaction. Sometimes you need only 3 minutes; other times you need more than 5 minutes. Let your objective serve as your guide.
5. Practice. But the practice is not in the manner we think practice should look: standing in a mirror, mentally reviewing notes, going through slides, and the like. Actually verbalize your entire presentation at least three times before you perform it. Yes. The entire presentation with the gestures, movements, pauses for audience interaction, everything ... as if the audience is right there with you. This gives you a good idea of where to fix lulls, where to slow down/speed up, where to stop for audience input so you can plan beforehand. In instances where you cannot rehearse the entire presentation three times, rehearse the first 15 minutes of the presentation three times; that sets you up with a strong start, instills confidence in you from the audience, gets you comfortable and confident, and positions you to go with the flow.
In short, make it enjoyable. Offer up the presentation you would want to see if you were in the audience!
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