The secret to delivering a timed presentation
(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY I consider myself a very good extemporaneous speaker -- in fact, public speaking is one of my strongest skills. I rarely do a lot of prep work on the actual words I intend to deliver; instead, I tend to use the bulleted lists in my PowerPoint deck as a memory jogger for the things I want to say.
Last week, I had a rare experience, though: I had to deliver a timed presentation. Each speaker was given just five minutes to speak, start-to-finish, and presenters were unceremoniously shown the stage exit when the time ran out. My usual extemporaneous approach simply would not work, since there was a high probability of running out of time without making all of my key points.
Instead, I was forced to go back to Presentation Basics and prepare for a speech the way that I did in high school, using public speaking rudiments. The good news? It came off perfectly -- I was able to deliver a strong, confident presentation that ran almost exactly the right amount of time. It sounded and felt authentic and the audience responded strongly. Here's how you can repeat my success:
Complete the PowerPoint deck. The audience will still be looking at PowerPoint, and PowerPoint will still be the backbone of the presentation -- so I completed it first, before I wrote a single word of my speech.
Write the speech. The next thing I did was to write the words I wanted to say. Not a summary, not bullet points. Every single word, every indefinite article and every punctuation mark. I wrote the speech as if it were an essay, in its entirety.
Deliver the speech. Once I had it written, I started a timer on my iPhone and delivered the presentation, reading my speech aloud. It's critical to read it aloud -- not just in your head -- because you talk a lot slower than you think, so the only way to know how long the speech really runs is to say it aloud.
Cut for length. I then compared the runtime of my spoken speech to the time allotted. In my case, I had a strict five minutes, and my speech ran closer to nine minutes. Hollywood has an expression: "Cut what you love." I started cutting. I had to eliminate almost half of my words, so I was merciless, cutting even anecdotes and examples I loved to death, but which were not absolutely essential to making my point.
Lather, rinse, repeat. And I repeated the process, reading the speech for time, and continuing to cut until it fit in the allotted five minutes. The advantage of this iterative process was that every reading made me more comfortable and familiar with the speech, and more able to work without the index card notes -- all the while helping me to find the right places to add emotion, emphasis, and energy so it didn't sound mechanical or robotic. And this is an important point: Unlike an extemporaneous speech in which your runtime is somewhat flexible, when you are being timed, you can't leave the runtime to chance. You have to know the speech well enough that you can recite it from rote.
Add temporary timer cues. Once your timing is in the right ballpark, I recommend this bonus "pro" tip: Add temporary timing notes to your PowerPoint presentation. If you should spend one minute on the first slide, add a "60" to the bottom corner of the slide, so you can make sure you're on track for a few more practices. You can keep an eye on your time and you'll develop a sort of "muscle memory" for where you should be in your deck at any given moment. This is important, because you'll almost certainly go long during the actual delivery on the big day -- so having a good feel for where you should be within the deck will help you stay on track and speed up or cut out a sentence or two to hit your mark by the end.
Remove the timing cues. Ready for the big day? If you've practiced enough, you'll know exactly what to say and you'll feel relaxed and natural doing it. Remember to delete those timing cues from the slides before you project them.
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