Actually, Timing IS Everything

"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you're the pilot." Michael Altshuler

It's your turn to present, but long-winded coworker Jeff ate half of your time slot. Your 30 minutes has now been chopped to 15. What do you do (other than eat half of Jeff's "reserved" cupcake in the fridge later)?

One hint: The answer isn't rushing and speed talking through all your content.

Despite what timing situation you find yourself in -- whether your allotment was stolen by a change of agenda or you just lost track of yourself -- it's your responsibility as the presenter to respect time limitations and work with what you have.

Plan ahead and make timing an internal focus the next time you're presenting. If you don't play by timing rules, you'll crash and burn.

Pay Attention to Timing with Presentations!

Here's what you need to do about timing:

Know when to cut to the big finish.

  • When you have one minute left and you haven't covered all your material, stop right there and head to the strong close.
  • Remember, a solid conclusion restating the point of view, necessary action steps, and benefits to your listeners is going to drive home the point of the presentation - much more than sped-through, rushed support information. Your audience will likely miss anything you speed through, anyway.
  • Send a recap email and include the missed points.

Lead with the most important info.

  • Journalists and speakers plan the same way. Put the most important information up front, so if your story (or time) gets cut short, at least the critical points have been hit.
  • This can feel counterintuitive - sometimes we like to save the best for a big finale, but frankly, you don't know what will happen to your time. Prioritize important points so that if you do have to cut to the finish, you've made your case.

Use a clock, but don't look at your watch.

  • Be sure to have a timepiece available: a large faced clock or your watch placed on the table, or use the clock in the back of the meeting room. Only you need to know when you're checking your time.
  • Years ago, I sat next to Zig Ziglar at an NSA event and saw him adjusting his watch to 7pm (but it was 6:30pm). Excited to help him, I let him know the correct time, at which point he whispered, "I always put my watch at the top of the hour no matter what. Helps me see it on the lectern and keep track of time." Pros like Zig plan for success.

Build in a buffer.

  • Rehearsal time is shorter than real time, so plan accordingly. A good rule of thumb is that your rehearsal time will be about 75% of your actual speaking time. We tend to add things when we are live, and actually speed up our pace in rehearsing.
  • It's a much better situation to find yourself with extra time, than to find yourself out of time.

Meet audience expectations.

  • What's everyone's non-renewable resource? Time! Everyone in your audience is busy, and if they've planned for a 10 minute meeting or presentation from you, you must stick with the schedule. Even if you're interesting, they'll start checking their phones and watches once you go over, and you've lost them.
  • Going over time can be perceived as disorganized, and even disrespectful, so set expectations and meet them to avoid resentment.

It's part planning for success, and part having plan B's ready to go in case of emergency. Prioritize your timeliness the next time you're presenting because you control the experience you're creating for your audience. Respect their time, and they're more likely to respect your points.

What time management tricks do you use?

8 thoughts on “Actually, Timing IS Everything
  1. Wow! This sure resonates with many of the short service provider presentations that might get stacked up at our marketing meetings with our Realtors, as well as the presentations that I make to corporate employers regarding a Home Benefit IQ program that I provide as volunatary benefit. When other speakers run long it becomes easy to recognize the tension of the room when there might be some time constraints. Great tips here, Ben!
    George Moody
    Personal Mortgage Advisor
    Corporate Benefit Provider

  2. Motivational Speakers – You’re quite right, people do remember the strong opening and strong closing. Attention span tends to dip in the middle, so the more you can do to solidify your points in their minds while you have the attention, the better. Thanks for commenting, and please continue!

  3. Timing is applicable to all facets of life as we continue to make momentary decisions on personal and business affairs. In the food industry for example, though it takes hard work to produce fruits and vegetables, a wise farmer has the knowledge and understanding on the importance of timing relative to planting and harvesting seasons.
    Similarly in the world of personal relationships, timing had been applied in the dating scene where many have tried the popular “3-second rule”, a success slogan that means: when you see a girl you like, you have 3 seconds to decide whether to approach her and say anything that comes in your mind. Simply put, both successful schemes are, in some ways applicable in a business environment.
    Further applications in business describes time as a vital factor in negotiations and can dictate concession behavior because ‘when’ is just as important as ‘how’ to make the concession. But remember that there is a crucial moment when final decisions had to be made when all arguments have subsided in the final stages.

  4. This is a Great Post, Ben!
    I especially like your suggestions about getting the “Good Stuff” out first, and keeping your eye on the clock so that if you have to wind up the presentation, you can summarize and close well.
    Some of us remember George Bush Sr. looking at his wristwatch when debating Clinton and Perot. It didn’t leave a good impression with the audience.

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