When You Don’t Have All the Time in the World

While leading a presentation skills training workshop, it became clear to me that the speakers were trying to cram too much content into too small a time frame. The content was all good, but something had to give.

I’d wager that this has happened to nearly everyone. I know it’s happened to me. You think you’ve got everything nailed down only to find that, when you rehearse your talk, it comes in 10 minutes or more beyond your time limit.

You’ve got to make some edits. Overshooting your allotted window results in a squirming audience and shows disrespect for the organization that invited you to present.

What are your options? Basically, there are three choices.


First, you can talk faster. Admittedly, this is a tongue-in-cheek suggestion (though I will note that, when jokingly suggesting this to clients, some have taken me seriously and had to be disabused of the notion). Speaking at too rapid a rate only confuses your audience, so let’s dismiss this one out of hand. Speed talking is not an option.

Making It on Time

I explained to my content-heavy clients that they had two real world choices in deciding what to edit out. First, they could cut entire sections. How to do this?

When organizing a presentation, the first step in your preparation should be setting forth your message. Decide upon your four main points and buttress them with examples, stories, numbers, third party endorsements, and other proof points. If you find that your overall presentation overshoots your time limit, excise one of those main points.

You may want to make brief mention of it in passing. It’s okay to explain to your audience that, for time purposes, you won’t delve into it in detail. It’s a good idea to tell them that, if anyone wants to discuss that particular idea,  you’ll be pleased to speak with them later. You can then chat right after your talk or arrange a time to talk via telephone or over coffee. If you are speaking as part of a larger conference, it’s easy enough to set up a meeting later during the event.

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Deleting Bits and Bites

Your second option when you have too much content is to reduce the amount of detail you use in certain sections. As an example, let’s say I’m delivering a speech on public speaking. One of my message points is likely to be the necessity of assessing feedback in hopes of achieving improved performance over the long haul. I may discuss items like how to heed real-time feedback, how you can solicit reaction from the event organizer, and the use of an evaluation form. If I need to lop off a few minutes, I might decide to eliminate a deep discussion of the evaluation form, for instance.

Another of my message points is likely to center on the value of preparation. To shave a few more minutes, I could curtail my discussion of the various speech format options or how to confirm the logistics at your venue. Again, I may cover them in a cursory manner rather than in depth if time necessitates.

Another option: Since most of my presentations have some interactive elements, I might opt to use only two small group exercises rather than three.

The point is you want to keep condensing chunks of your remarks until you hit the required time frame for your talk.

These two approaches are not mutually exclusive. You can mix and match the techniques, cutting some sections wholesale and others in part to help you reach your agreed-upon time limit.

The End Result

How did things work out with my client? I’m happy to report that they nailed it. Theirs was a slide presentation, so collaboratively they reviewed their slides and deleted those they felt were of least importance to the audience at hand. They viewed some of their decisions as painful, as evidenced by two factors. One, there was much discussion (sometimes verging on argument) about what to leave on the cutting room floor. Two, the aggrieved looks on their faces as they waved goodbye to certain slides.

It did take a few rounds of edits to get the job done. You will likely find that you, too, will require a number of editing cycles before you reach your goal. That’s okay. While your audience will never know how hard you worked to give them what they need, you will gain the satisfaction of a job well done.


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