Be prepared to cut your presentation short

I have written in the past about managing your time when giving a speech or presentation. One of my tips in the post above says to cut your presentation short if necessary.

Cut your presentation short

Logistics, I wrote, will not always be within your control and your speaking time might be unexpectedly reduced. If you are told, 20 minutes before you begin speaking, that your scheduled one-hour presentation must now be delivered in 45 or even 30 minutes, can you adjust quickly and calmly? You should know which material to cut. If you have a slide presentation, you should also be able to open Slide Sorter (in PowerPoint) or Light Table (in Keynote) and know exactly which slides to pull.

That advice relates to planning ahead to cut material. Today, I want to talk about a specific situation that might lead to a snap decision during your talk to cut material.

The situation I have in mind is one that sometimes occurs just before the end of a speech. The speaker is in the process of concluding and says something that elicits an unexpected big applause from the audience. In most cases, this will be because the audience thinks that the speech has ended. In such cases, it is almost always the right decision to abandon whatever final words you had prepared, especially if there is nothing revelatory about them.

Most speakers will continue with their prepared conclusion and go right to the end. I have even seen speakers say something along the lines of “I’m not finished yet.” In every case, the ending became anticlimactic.

I recently saw an example of this on an episode of the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. There was a special guest appearance by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame. Stewart delivered a satirical monologue on the Trump Presidency.

The monologue ebbed and flowed between humour and seriousness. At 6:55 of the video below (which I have set to start at 6:55) Stewart began to deliver his conclusion. At 7:22, he ends on a powerful sentence—”This we cannot do”—and the reaction from the audience is equally powerful.

But rather than stopping there, Stewart tried to talk over his audience (without success) to squeeze in a final line and some joke about the Democrats. He didn’t even get to finish; Colbert had to cut him off for the advertisement break. It would have been better to cut the prepared ending at 7:22 and let the applause run.

Nobody would have known (or cared) that Stewart had a few more words to say. The sentence, “This we cannot do” makes it abundantly clear what Stewart’s position is. Had he really wanted to get in his final line—”And by not yielding, we will prevail”—which he clearly did, it would have been better to wait until the applause died down. (I recognize, of course, that on national television with advertising pressures, one does not always have the luxury of time.)

If you are approaching the end of your speech and you get an amazing round of applause, use the time during which people are applauding to ask yourself a question: Do I have anything left to say that is so fundamental to my message that I have to say it? If not, cut your presentation there and then.

And enjoy the applause.

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Testimonials

John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International