The Short Version

Has this ever happened to you?

  • You’re asked to give a presentation.
  • You’re told what the audience would like you to speak about.
  • You’re told where and when the presentation will be given.
  • You’re told how much time you have to speak.
  • You agree to give the presentation.
  • You prepare diligently.
  • You arrive on time at the right location.
  • And then you are told that because (a) there is a crisis down at the manufacturing plant or (b) the other speakers have gone overtime or (c) [insert your own reason here], you’re time has been cut by (a) 25% or (b) 50% or (c) [insert your own percentage here].

Unfortunately, this happens a lot. So, what can you do?

  • Cram the entire presentation into the reduced time? Rarely does this end well.
  • Ask to reschedule? Often not an option and it does not leave a good impression.
  • Keep to your original time; ignore the request to shorten the presentation? Rude.
  • Slam your fist on the table, say that you refuse to work like this and storm out? Great if you’re in a movie but otherwise … no.

Quite simply, you have to adapt. It might not be easy, but it will be easier if you have planned for this possibility beforehand. Below are some ideas.

1.  Structure your presentation in chunks (sections) and know your material so well that you can jump to any section at any time. When I practised law in Canada, I was frequently in court arguing cases on behalf of my clients. Cases usually had several points and I would structure my argument accordingly. However, there was no guarantee that the judges would hear me out in the order I had in mind. Often they would have me skip points, or go through the points in a different order, or raise a question about an issue that I did not consider relevant. In all cases, I had to be ready to react. Having my legal argument clearly structured made it possible. If you design your presentation in sections, it will be easier to decide which sections to drop (if necessary) and which to keep.

2.  Give an executive summary that captures the essence of your presentation in less than a minute. Depending on the audience and the situation, ask them whether they would like to hear an abbreviated version of the entire presentation or whether they would like you to skip some parts and focus in detail on others. This tactic is useful when the audience is small (10 or less) but cumbersome if you have to poll a large audience where getting consensus will be difficult if not impossible. If it’s a large audience, make the call as to what is most important.

3.  Have a short version of your presentation that you can swap in for the original. This will be particularly handy if you are using slides. Yes, you could use the original slide deck and skip slides with the remote. Or, if you have a few minutes, you could go through the original slide deck and hide the slides using the relevant function in PowerPoint or Keynote. However, it would be far easier to use a shorter slide deck that has been prepared in advance. In fact, if you have a presentation (with or without slides) that you give regularly, I strongly recommend that you have a short version. And the short version should be no more than half the length of the full version. Creating a short version is an excellent exercise because it forces you to think about what is most important in your presentation. And, as you create the short version, you might realize that there are things in the full version that you just don’t need.

It is never easy to react when your time to speak as been cut significantly. But it can happen. If you are prepared, you can turn the situation into an opportunity to impress your audience with your ability to adapt quickly, calmly and effectively.

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Posted in Preparation, Slide Presentation | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 281) – Scott Berkun

Scott Berkun – American Author and Speaker

“In hundreds of lectures around the world, I’ve done most of the scary, tragic, embarrassing things that terrify people. I’ve been heckled by drunken crowds in a Boston bar. I’ve lectured to empty seats, and a bored janitor, in New York City. I’ve had a laptop crash in a Moscow auditorium; a microphone die at a keynote speech in San Jose; and I’ve watched helplessly as the Parisian executives who hired me fell asleep in the conference room while I was speaking. The secret to coping with these events is to realize everyone forgets about them after they happen—except for one person: me. No one else really cares that much.

— Scott Berkun

Photo courtesy of Scott Berkun
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50th Anniversary of the Death of Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, 4 April 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. He was assassinated on 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old.

On 3 April 1968, the day before his assassination, King delivered his final speech, entitled I Have Been to the Mountaintop. The entire speech is about 40 minutes long and you can listen to it here.

If you don’t have time for the whole thing, at least watch the three-minute excerpt in the video below.

Note King’s powerful use of anaphora with the phrase, “Somewhere I read …”.

Note his eerie foreshadowing of what would happen the very next day:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he has allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. I’m so happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything! I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Note how King’s words are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.

Note the power that comes with being able to communicate your ideas with coherence, conviction and passion.

Rest in peace, Dr. King.

Posted in History of Public Speaking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 280) – Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss – American Author and Entrepreneur

“I agree with Warren Buffett that public speaking is one of the best investments you can make. … When you take the ability to communicate messages effectively to groups of people and layer it on top of almost anything else, you automatically put yourself into rarified company. So public speaking, I do think, is a useful skill and even a necessary skill depending on where your decision tree takes you in life. … Even if you are introverted, I would suggest getting better at, and practising, public speaking.”

— Tim Ferriss

Photo courtesy of Tim Ferriss
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Gamification can help overcome public speaking nerves

I have written before about Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™, the board game and app that Florian Mueck and I co-created. You can read recent posts here and here.

Recently, I was interviewed about the game on Dukascopy Swiss Financial TV. My interview with Jack Everitt below.

While discussing the RHETORIC, I mentioned how the game can help people with their nerves when they have to speak in public.

By gamifying public speaking, we have combined elements of fun, competition, play and socialization to create an environment that is conducive to enjoyment and learning. But there is something else that I have noticed.

In the real world, many people (understandably) get nervous when they have a presentation to give. They prepare, the nerves build, the big day comes and they give their presentation. And usually, it goes fine. But then what happens?

For many people, they go back to their regular tasks and they do not have to speak again in public for weeks or months or possibly a whole year. And when that next speaking engagement comes around, the process of getting nervous begins all over again because so much time has elapsed between presentations.

With Rhetoric – The Public Speaking Game™, you must give a short (1- or 2-minute) speech every turn. You don’t have that much time between turns. For example, if you play with five other people, you will probably only have 10 to 15 minutes between your speeches. There isn’t a lot of time to get nervous before it is your turn again.

So here’s what happens.

A player—let’s call him Tim—is nervous about playing RHETORIC. For his first turn, he rolls the dice, finds out what his speaking assignment is, and then speaks for a minute or so. The other players applaud and the turn passes to the next player. Meanwhile, Tim sits back, somewhat relieved but also pleased with the fact that he has spoken and the world did not end.

Pretty soon, it is Tim’s turn again. Now he and all the other players have spoken once. Everyone is in the same boat. Tim is still a bit nervous, but less so. He rolls the dice, gets his next speaking assignment and once again speaks. The second speech might be better than the first one or it might be worse. It doesn’t matter. Once again, the other players applaud and encourage Tim, just as Tim has applauded and encouraged the other players. And the world has still not come to and end.

By his third turn, Tim starts to think that this is fun. It doesn’t matter whether he gives a good speech or a bad speech, the fun comes from just getting up there and speaking. Everyone is having a good time. And so what is often a vicious circle in the real world becomes a virtuous circle in the game.

Florian and I have seen real transformation in people throughout the course of a single game. Players who were nervous at the start are champing at the bit and eagerly jumping on stage by the end. And therein lies power of RHETORIC.

If you would like to learn more about the game, you can click on either of the links at the top of this post or visit our website.

Even if you don’t play, try to find ways to reduce the amount of time between your public speaking engagements. As is the case with learning any skill, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Posted in Nerves | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments