Time Up

Yesterday I was invited to talk to members of a reputed multinational company. The day-long meeting was organised in a hotel and my 90 minutes talk was scheduled to start at 1130. The speaker before me continued beyond 12:00 noon and I could greet the audience only by 12:15 p.m. I had two choices

  • use the allocated 90 minutes and do justice to my preparations for the talk, or
  • end as scheduled at 1:00 p.m.

If I chose the first option, the audience would break for lunch 45 minutes late. As the inviting meal was spread in the same hall, gastronomic juices would have impaired their interest in my talk. Also, the remaining programs would be delayed with cascading effect.

The second choice would require me to cut the duration of the talk to half without affecting the flow and without compromising on salient points. I had 20 slides planned in serial order. Skipping a slide after projecting is not a good strategy and could also affect the flow. It is better to talk without slides if we are not confident of managing the time with slides.

I chose the second option, cut the duration of talk to half, and avoided typical Q&A at the end. I could use the slides because they contained only pictures (no text) around which I would weave themes and stories. I skipped a few stories and condensed others without affecting the core theme and natural flow. The talk was very well received. I was satisfied with my delivery and happy with audience response.

When we build stories using cue from pictures, we have liberty to make it as elaborate as the time permits and to moderate audience interactions. If we do not talk about a picture, it won’t speak itself. Even if we don’t read slide-full text, we cannot stop curiosity of the audience. Half the attention of audience would be on reading if text is projected – all the more effort if the font is small. If we rush forward without allowing them to read, they feel cheated. If we display some text and do not discuss it, why have the text? If it is meant only for reading verbatim, it is better to give a hand-out than put the text on the slides. If at all you need text on the slides, reduce sentences to phrases, phrases to single words, and remove as many words as you can. Try the guidelines of Beyond Bullet Points and such other advises.

Is text on slides not relevant at all? In most cases not.

Andrew Abela talks about Extreme Presentation and two styles – ballroom and conference room presentations.

  • Ballroom presentations are for large audiences. You are on the podium to tell your story. Audience participation is mainly to understand you better.
  • Conference room presentations are to “convince a small number of people to make a specific decision and to take a particular action.” Stuff the slides with text, tables, charts, graphs, and statistics, whatever you need to present your case and help others participate in discussions. The slides are aids to discussion and brainstorming – not for mere presentation. You could even print the slides instead of projecting.

I have also effectively used relational presentation in long training sessions (up to four full days) and interactive presentations for shorter talks and discussions. These approaches blended together give good flexibility and better reuse of slides in subsequent talks. I also find it very effective to embed audio and video tracks on slides, which may be played if context is appropriate. Else the links sit innocuously at the corner of the slides.

As many of the readers may not be regular speakers, I do not elaborate on the techniques, but shall be glad to share my experiences with those interested.

End Note:

Often we think that punctuality means reaching on time. It is equally important that we also depart on time. Delay in reaching or starting our task late should not be an excuse to overstay. We can’t hold on to people who would have other commitments.

As a general principle, it is also not appropriate that people stay late in work place. This sets a pattern of unhealthy working hours and affects work-life balance. I made it a practice to ask explanations from people who left office late and not from those who came late to the office.

Pilgrims we, hallowed ground this earth

There is room to stay under discipline in the alms-house

It has stuck three after midnight, it is time to depart, thus admonished

If you move out, the administrator will be pleased

672, The Ramblings of Timma, The Dull – Translation of Manku Thimmana Kagga

If my time is up, I can’t wait for an auspicious day after Ashadha to vacate my seat. 

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About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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