“The audience only pays attention as long as you know where you are going.”
– Philip Crosby
You’ve planned your content, rehearsed your speech, and timed your speech. You’ve got your bases covered.
What if; your time slot is cut by half at the nth hour because:
- You’re delayed by things beyond your control
- Organisers lack proper planning or coordination
- Something goes wrong at the venue
When this happens, you’re more likely to do one of these things:
- Walk away without presenting
- Rush through the presentation
- Stick to your guns and present as originally planned
Your credibility and reputation is at stake with the first. Your audience doesn’t benefit from a hurried speech. You risk irritating and alienating your audience with the third act.
How do you salvage your presentation and still deliver value?
This clearly calls for thinking on your feet and planning on the go.
1. Have a contingency plan
For longer presentation sessions, advanced planning can ease your transition to an unexpected short phase. Divide your presentation modules into timed lesson plans. This helps you prioritise key lessons/slides, cut content portions, save time and still cover the essentials.
2. Chop away
Steel your heart and bring out the chopping axe. If your presentation has to be shortened by 15-20 minutes, you can remove smaller pieces of content.
You’ve been called to present for 2-3 hours at a stretch, but have to cover it now in half the time. This calls for drastic cuts. Do away with a lengthy intro. Cut planned activities like learning exercises and group activities which take up a sizeable amount of time.
3. Inform your audience
Ease tensions in the room and address concerns of a restive audience by explaining your revised agenda. Assure them that you’ll be covering the key points despite a shorter span.
This removes focus from what was lost to what can be gained from the session. Make sure the material you don’t cover is offered in another form after the presentation.
4. Ask your audience
The lack of time may force you to choose between two important parts of your presentation. You may have time for case studies or Q&A, but not both.
Instead of selecting a topic for them, let your audience decide what they want covered. Have a poll – show of hands – to pick the activity. This helps mollify an irritated audience and encourages them to participate.
5. Alternative ending
While skipping one part of your presentation allows you to finish on time, you can cover the other part in extra time. Give your audience members the opportunity to participate in the alternative exercise.
Some audience will leave immediately, but others may stay on a bit longer. With this flexible option, you provide value to both sets of listeners.
Have you ever had your presentation shortened? How did other speakers handle similar situations?