On time, every time

One of the main annoyance factors about many presentations is that they finish late. This shows a total lack of respect for the audience, who most likely have something else to do afterwards, and are probably bored of listening anyway. I have been in this situation, and don’t remember anything about the last part of those talks except my extreme annoyance and frustration.

Don’t overrun. Under any circumstances. Don’t even ask permission to overrun, because many of your audience members will sheepishly accept in order not to annoy you, but they will resent you for it.

Another problem is that in a huge effort to avoid overrunning, many presenters will rush through the last part of their presentations, which are often the most important parts, and thus sabotage their conclusions. This isn’t any better than overrunning.

My advice is threefold:

  1. Plan not to fill the whole time. If you have 15 minutes, plan to speak for 8 or 9 minutes and leave time for questions (and prepare a few sample questions in case your audience doesn’t ask any). That way if things take a bit longer than you planned, you still won’t overrun.
  2. Time your presentation (you are planning to rehearse it several times, aren’t you?): split it into certain sections, time each section during rehearsals, and watch the clock while you are presenting so you know whether you are ahead of time or not.
  3. Plan a part of your presentation which is towards the end (but not part of the conclusion) which you could easily decide to skip if required. This way, you don’t rush anything, you just miss out a particular message which is perhaps not so important. Often I will do this by skipping over videos or only showing part of them, for example.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to pace your presentation well, avoid rushing anything, and finish in good time to allow your audience to ask questions – and to leave on time. They’ll be most grateful.


6 Responses to On time, every time

  1. Anita James says:

    I totally agree with you!! I recently attended a presentation which over-ran by 35 minutes. The presenter, who was completely boring and loved the sound of his own voice, presumed that we had nothing better to do than hang around waiting for him to finish. I was so incensed by his sheer arrogance that I can’t even remember half of it. So, presenters’ who have nothing else better to do but ramble on, take heed that you may, in future, be pontificating to an empty auditorium. The grapevine is a powerful tool!!

  2. I liked your tip on preparing your own sample questions just in case the audience has none!

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Thanks Geetesh – indeed it is vital to prepare some questions. It is usually true that in India people tend to ask far more questions than they would in parts of Europe, for example, but sometimes you do need to ‘prime the pump’ and ask one or two questions: “A question which people often ask me is…”

      Of course you need to prepare answers to the questions you don’t want the audience to ask you, but you should also prepare some ‘friendly’ questions which will allow you to reinforce your key messages.

      If you expect you may have difficulty getting any questions, you might even plan ahead and ‘encourage’ one or two audience members to ask certain questions, which should ensure that other people then follow their lead. It works just as well as Frank Sinatra’s paid fainting girls who actually caused unpaid girls to faint too. ‘Planted’ questions can lead to genuine ones, whereas if you just recite questions yourself, that doesn’t necessarily encourage the audience members to put their hands up.

  3. Phil,

    Amen to that!

    If there are no questions, I prefer to ask questions of the audience. This can get a conversation going.

    Also, I never finish my presentation with the question session. The close of the presentation is the most important part, and it’s a weak ending if the last words are “well, if there are no more questions…”. No Sir, a presentation should go out with a bang!

    Practically, this means I do the question session shortly before the end, then take back the focus and finish with a call to action and a memorable close – maybe gifts, music or some surprise. (It’s important that the organisers know this is coming, otherwise they always seem to assume that the questions are the end…)



    • Phil Waknell says:

      OK Adam, now you’re getting into advanced conclusion techniques! If only everyone understood audiences as well as you do.

      Presentations should of course go out with a clap (as per one of my older posts), and like any good show, a presentation should be concluded twice. Why twice?

      I like to think of it as if it is a rock concert. You build up to a great conclusion, get a round of applause, and then you do encores. The Q&A session is your set of encores – your chance to reinforce your points, repeat key messages and leave a lasting impression. And then, at the end of the Q&A, conclude once again, thank the audience for their time, give them something to remember, and then leave to another round of applause.

      It’s a little different from your plan of taking Q&A before the conclusion, but it follows the same principle and it gives great results. But for most people, just finishing on time is a big challenge, so one step at a time, eh?


  4. Ending on time – and starting on the dot! – are indeed inherent to treating your audience with respect. It’s also proof that you know how to manage yourself and that you master your topic. Those who ramble on, putting the audience to sleep, often are unable to summarize their subject in two sentences or less.

    Good presenters make the rules clear from the start. Sometimes, if you want to get a conversation going when presenting to a smaller group, it can be useful to allow questions during your talk. That takes practice – in audience management, mediation (to keep the topic on track), and self-timing to arrive at that rockin’ closure on time. But it’s a lot of fun to see that connection form between the presenter and the audience, and among participants!

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