It’s a common occurrence in the business world. You prepare a meeting, presentation, or speech for a certain length of time, only to find out that you have a lot less time than you planned for. Sometimes we even learn our fate as we are walking into the presentation.
We’ve spoken a lot lately about the importance of brevity in our communication, but what if we’re asked to be even more brief than we anticipated? How do you deal when the 45 minute allotment for your keynote is now cut down to 15 minutes?
First, whenever you are preparing for a business presentation (and especially when presenting to people who are more senior than you or who are known to be extremely busy) always assume you will get less time than you were originally told. Never be surprised by this. Always expect it.
Next, think again about what you need to achieve with your speech or presentation. What’s your goal? What’s most important to you? Is there something specific that you must cover in your shortened time frame?
As you are thinking about this, take some notes, and try to make sure your list isn’t too long. Remember, we’re cutting time here, so be brutally honest with yourself and focus on what you think is most important. Is there something specific you need people to do, or think or remember? Is there something specific you have been charged with accomplishing? Start there. That stuff is probably near the top of the list.
Once you’ve gotten some clarity about what you need to accomplish with your speech or presentation, now you’re nearly ready to start making some hard choices.
But what if you are struggling to make those choices? How do you choose?
1. Think about who will be in the audience. What do you want or need from them? What do you need them to remember? What actions do you want them to take after the talk is over? Think those questions through and then try to focus on the key issues, topics or points that will help connect the dots between where your audience is now to where you want them to be when you’re done.
2. Cut out a lot of the details and the stories and stick to the high points. The biggest difference between a good 45 minute talk and a good 15 minute talk is about 30 minutes of details, data or examples. The good talk will still focus on the high points, whether it is 45 minutes or 15 minutes.
3. Try to limit your list of key points to 5 items or less. Keep things focused on the most key of the key points.
4. But DON’T cut out your good opening or your good summary. You still need to capture attention and set context at the beginning and you still need to summarize the key points at the end, regardless of the length of time.
Our best advice is that you never leave yourself vulnerable to this problem. In other words, every time you are asked to speak, plan ahead how you’ll handle it if and when your time gets cut in half.