If you speak with any degree of regularity, you’ve most likely arrived at a venue and had the meeting organizer toss a ticking time bomb in your direction by saying something like, “I’m sorry but the previous speaker went over his time limit. We are trying to get back on schedule so we need you to cut your presentation down to 20 minutes.” Of course, this being your client, you assume an attractive facial expression and say “Sure, no problem,” as you suffer an internal meltdown while thinking “WTF? How am I supposed to cut a 60 minute presentation down to 20 minutes with zero advance notice?
People are generally uncomfortable with change but learning you have to drastically revise your presentation at the drop of a dime is enough to make the most seasoned speakers blow a gasket. If you’re anything like the majority of people, when this happens, it feels like the odds of you going from public speaker to public embarrassment just skyrocketed. Despite the shock, it is quite common for speakers to have to adjust their presentations due to unanticipated time constraints. For this reason, the best speakers learn to play their presentations like an accordion, meaning they are flexible enough to collapse and expand their content and still hit the perfect notes to connect and persuade their audiences.
The key to mastering the unexpected time squeeze is creating a flexible speech structure that can be collapsed (or expanded) on demand. I know this probably sounds like it’s easier said than done but is surprisingly simple when you focus on the transitions in your speech. The transitions are the links that connect your main points to each other. They are also the most flexible and adaptable components of your speech structure. Here are two simple but effective ways to use transitions to enhance the flexibility of your speech structure.
Spare tire transitions:
The name says it all. Spare tire transitions are substitute transitions that can be pumped up and ready to roll in the event you need them. Imagine that your 60-minute speech has three main points: A, B and C. Most likely you have a transition that connects points A and B as well as one that links points B and C. Insert a meeting planner who says you have to cut your presentation down to 20 minutes.
This is where your spare tire transition comes in handy. Let’s assume that you decide to drop point B. The spare tire transition is the one that you wrote (and rehearsed) in the event that, rather than connecting points B and C, you needed to connect points A and C. This can be applied to any point in your presentation; the key is that ready-to-roll spare tire transition.
Time stamp Transitions:
Time stamp transitions work extremely well in an unexpected time crunch because they are not directly linked to the main points (or content) that precede or follow them. The sole purpose of the time stamp, as the name says, is to mark progress for your audience. It may sound something like, “We’ve covered point one, we’re one third of the way there. Let’s turn our attention to point two.” This type of transition isolates each point, making it easier to eliminate one or more if necessary.
When you’re thinking about which content to put on the potential chopping block, consider two things: (1) impact, meaning how important the topic is to your audience, and (2) time, meaning how much time will you save by dropping the point in question.
Now, in the rare instance that you are asked to expand your presentation, I highly recommend that you switch to facilitation or coaching mode. Take the opportunity to get your audience involved. Engage them in a manner that requires them to share their ground level experiences and compare one experience to the next by pointing out similarities and differences. Conclude with a best practices list and your participants and the meeting organizer will love you!
I’ll land the plane by saying this. Professional speakers always start and end on time. They also arrive at the event early so they know that they may have to cut their presentations before the organizer asks and, finally, they’re skilled at playing the accordion because they practice and prepare for every eventuality, just like all the greats!
Dez Thornton is a communications coach who helps you say the right words in the right way when they matter most! For more information, see www.dezthornton.com.