Run too long, and attention turns from what you’re saying to why you’re still saying it.
Pacing a presentation is something that we’ve all struggled with at some point in our careers. Whether it’s because you’re working with new material, or perhaps you tend to rush or even waffle when you’re nervous, what was once a carefully timed presentation can descend into a big mess.
Let’s not underestimate the importance of timing a presentation well, either. Run too long, and you can throw the entire schedule of an event in chaos. The audience starts to get twitchy, attention turns from what you’re saying to why you’re still saying it, and the venue staff start to panic about all the cups of coffee sat going cold outside the room. Worse still, it’s the important points and conclusions of a presentation that end up being rushed or skipped in order to keep to time.
Finish your presentation too early, and risk looking like you didn’t put the effort in to prepare enough material, and no matter how good your content is everyone will be left wishing that there was just a bit more of it. Timing really matters.
So how can you improve your timing? One thing that can really help in the delivery is knowing if you’re running fast or slow before you crash into the end of your talk. That way you can make adjustments as you go along by glossing over smaller points to speed up or expanding more on your ideas to slow down.
A great way to do this is to create landmark slides in your deck that act as timing milestones to let you know how far through the presentation your are at that point. A basic example might be to have a slide mid-point and to write at the top of the presenter notes “HALF WAY! 15 MINUTES TO GO!” or whatever is appropriate. Perhaps more usefully, you might add notes to each major section of the presentation, especially anywhere where you’d naturally take a pause. This will give you a chance to check the time without distracting your train of thought.
Whatever sort of timings you use on your landmark slides, make sure they match the information that you have in front of you as you present. I often use Apple Keynote where the presenter display has a countdown timer showing the time I have remaining. As such, I’d make my notes in that format - “8 MINUTES TO GO!” - so I can make a quick comparison to the clock without needing to think or do any on-the-fly calculations to work out if I’m fast or slow.
I’d advise against using real time-of-day timings (“Should be 10:20am now!”) as if the session starts late or the schedule changes you’ll be high and dry.
Once you’ve rehearsed well, you’ll soon get a feel for how to make micro-adjustments to your pacing. The result is a well timed presentation with nothing important skipped, and hot coffee waiting for the audience at the end.
Advent speaker tips: this is part of a series of tips for public speakers that we’re posting throughout advent. Check back daily during December for more.