“I’ve got a lot to get through, so I’m going to go quite fast”.
How many times have you heard this from someone giving a business presentation? And how effective did those presenters turn out be?
Speeding up, as I have often said to those I coach in Presentation Skills, is not an effective answer to communicating a lot of information in a short space of time. Indeed, it will probably do more harm than good. And now there is some science to support what I have been saying; published in the journal Cognition, it was reported in both the Times (see below) and here in the Daily Mail.
The findings of the research, by Dr Uriel Cohen Piva, assistant professor at Brown University in the USA, are quite complicated and the Daily Mail has almost inevitably led on a reader-friendly gender divide. The nub of it, however, is that as speech sped up, the information rate declined.
So what can business presenters do when they have a lot to convey in a short amount of time? The best approach is to be ruthless about your editing – you need to accept the fact that you suffer from the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ and need to ‘Kill some Darlings’, just as TV and film makers do. I have discussed these issues at various times in the past and you can click on some links for the articles, the most recent featuring Jeremy Clarkson.
Thereafter, there are a number of tactics you can deploy, primarily:
First, be sure to time yourself carefully as you rehearse. The brain plays tricks on you at times like this and your presentation will always seem either longer or shorter than it actually is.
Second, aim to come in a little under time. People will thank you for that and you will have a built-in comfort margin. It may even help in terms of stimulating follow up questions.
Third, build in some content at around the 75% mark that is nice to have, but not essential. That way, this can be cut if necessary, so that you can avoid having to rush or even manage without your closing comments.
Finally, remember that if you are forced to curtail your closing comments you are messing up the most crucial part of your presentation. ‘Firsts & Lasts’ are the most important elements of any presentation for two main reasons: 1) Those are what your audience remember and 2) Your close contains your ‘Call to Action’ – a crystal clear (rather than rushed or stunted) definition of what you want your audience to do and to remember.