Presentations That Exceed The Allotted Time

Back in February I did a presentation for MagicPASS that ran long, maybe 30 minutes over the time allotted. It annoyed me to be so far off, but overall the group seemed ok with continuing and so we did. I thought about it some then, but it wasn’t until I saw someone else do it recently that I came back to close the loop.

Why do presentations run long? I think its one or more of these:

  • Lack of practice to get a good timing (and in turn trimming material as needed to get within the limit)
  • Being tired. Easy to spend too much time on a slide or too much time answering questions when you’re tired.
  • Demos gone bad
  • Being enthusiastic. Especially when you get a crowd that is engaged, it’s easy to add value and run long.
  • The option to run long. At all day events you can’t be more than about 5 minutes over or the next presentation is going to be delayed, so you stop whether done or not!
  • Too much material (which is really a variation of lack of practice)

Back in February I think I had all of those except the bad demo. I had done a practice run, but one wasn’t enough. Here’s the question that matters – is that a fail?

I’m not sure it is.

If you think about it an in-person presentation at a chapter meeting is just about the only place where you can run long. They have smaller audiences. It’s the ideal environment to test out new material with a real audience (because while using your spouse as an audience is good for practice, it’s not quite the same).  Chapters are where we should practice and perfect. I’m not saying we shouldn’t practice and try to get it right on the first try – we should. It’s just not always realistic.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin. What can we do to help a speaker that is off the timeline? Particularly in a chapter environment I think the leader/moderator can really add value:

  • Call out the 5 minute warning. That’s late if they still have 30 slides left, but it is a cue to the speaker to speed up or cut material. If they are alert but behind they may be able to say right then that they are way behind and will either run long or cut material.
  • At 5 minutes over interrupt as soon as you politely can. Engage the speaker and the group along the lines of “we’re running quite a bit long” and then:
    • Stop the presentation and go to the next item, note that the deck will be available online, maybe even invite the speaker back to do “part 2”
    • Take a 5 minute break, indicate those that need to leave can,then resume. If you vote,I still think you take a break – let the speaker assess how to continue.

If the leader sets those rules with the speaker up front, it’s a safety net for everyone, and the leader remains in control. I don’t know how often it happens, is it worth baking this approach into the culture?

Back to the speaker side, it’s not fun to run long for any reason, and especially on the first run you’re tired because you’re doing new material. Trying to go another 30 minutes is more tiring. Worth thinking that through ahead of time so that if (when!) you fall behind and the leader stops you to make a decision you can really assess if it makes sense to continue. Do you have the energy left? Is it really only another 5 minutes?

Chapters are where we build speakers and that means it won’t always go smoothly. Think about ways you can help them be successful, regardless of experience level.