There’s nothing like a conference with short presentation after presentation to remind you what makes a particularly good one. I facilitated two Awards ceremonies recently where 18 people in all presented their cases and proposals in 6 minutes each. These were critical opportunities for the speakers to share their ideas and convince the jury and audience of their merits in relatively micro-timeframes (imagine condensing your 30 years of hard work into this time frame?) It became very clear in this long string of short speeches that a super good presentation would do a lot to support a candidate’s case.
As I watched one after another fly by I jotted down observations that I thought might make a good checklist for speakers making short presentations (including me!) I would say that we all know these things intellectually, but when we are up there in front of the lights and hundreds of people, do we do them?
My advice, don’t read this list now.
You will just say, “Yes, of course, obvious, duh.”
Use it AFTER you have prepared your presentation, as a checklist, then it will be most useful. Be honest when answering these questions, the quality of your presentation depends upon it!
- Does it fit into the allocated time? How do you know? (Please practice for timing out loud. Just because you can whiz through something in your head in the allocated time, doesn’t mean that when you have to move your lips, pause to breathe, and fiddle with the slide changer, etc. you won’t need a few extra minutes. With a 6-minute time slot, this can be a killer.)
- Are you talking too fast? (Don’t speed up to fit it in the timeframe, and when you are nervous you might speed up your pace naturally – or should I say nervously. It is also incredibly stressful for the audience members who are desperately trying to keep up with you and understand you. Non-native speakers have a big advantage here as they might be translating at the same time which can slow speech down. Native English speakers have to work harder at comfortable pacing. Breathe again.)
- Is there any fluff? Cut it out. (Don’t spend time thanking every distinguished person in the room up front, it is nice but people will assume your thankfulness if you don’t say it. Remember that your timing starts as soon as you open your mouth. Don’t give too much background on yourself, a smart sentence will do if needed at all – in all of my sessions I introduced the speakers, ask if this will be your case, so you can cut this out. Don’t give too much context and background, just enough to launch your idea. You probably have a very smart audience too who knows where Switzerland is, skip the map.)
- Are your key messages up front? (It might be tempting to leave the big idea for last, but if you run out of time, and you have a strict timekeeper like me, you might never get there – this happened over and over! Pull them up front and share your lessons learned all the way through rather than saving all that juicy stuff to a potentially rushed and awkward end. You can always repeat them on your closing slide which you want to leave up while people clap for you – NOT that big empty slide that says “THANK YOU!”)
- Is your presentation or slide set too data heavy? (In these short time frames you should sprinkle in the most powerful data and figures and not overload slides with graphs that say too much for the seconds you have to share them. If you do use a graph, use a red circle to highlight the key point or figure, or write the key message on it. And you should NEVER have to say to your audience, “sorry that graph is not clear”, “sorry you can’t read that table from the back, etc.” Just skip it and give a summary instead.)
- Can you deliver it without reading your slides? (With a short timeframe, you should be able to memorize or at least mostly memorize a presentation. In those that are best, the speaker moves away from his or her slides and tells the story with the slides as emphasis photos, key words/figures or messages. It also means you will be facing your audience rather than having your back to them. With a short time frame, you will not be able to engage them much or make eye contact if you spend 50% of your time starting back at the big screen. For short speeches have a few strong key headings that you can keep in mind while you weave your narrative together. Of course, this takes practice – see Point 1 above again.)
- Is your PPT/Prezi working? (The PPT equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction is when your animation doesn’t work, your video doesn’t stream, your sound doesn’t work, your picture on a huge screen is blurry, etc. Does this work 100% of the time when you test it before you speak? Even with this testing, your e-karma might be off this day, we’ve all seen it. Can you pare it down to the minimum of these additional bells and whistles – because if they don’t work, your time is still ticking away, and they can create a bit of a “what was that?” blur if they do. A good, clear short video can be a powerful addition, but make sure it is faultlessly embedded and works every time; get rid of the rest unless it really adds to your message.)
- Do your visual choices work? ( Are your colour combinations caustic, or sophisticated? Does that font colour show up when it is two stories high? In all these presentations I really liked the ones with a dark background, especially those that also featured photos which really popped on the black or dark background rather than white. For short presentations you need visual punch as well as message punch, with crispness to both of these. There isn’t a long time to develop thoughts and ideas with many white slides and verbal or visual asides,)