How to Shorten Your Presentation – or simply say less

George TorokCommunication skills, Presentation Tips Leave a Comment


You’ve probably faced this presentation dilemma: You have too much information and not enough time to present it all.

Too much information

As you grow in your career or business, you’ll encounter this challenge often – so be ready to deal with it.

The reality is that people don’t have the time or patience to listen to everything you want to tell them. The good news is that you don’t need to tell them everything to get your message delivered.

You want the audience, especially your colleagues, boss and clients to appreciate the breadth and depth of your knowledge – but they don’t give you enough time.

Recognize that the time allotted to you is indicative of how much information they want. You decide which information is more relevant.

What can you do when faced with short and changing time frames to present your message?


Your Challenge

Imagine that you’ve been asked to present a report to management. You have two hours worth of information but only 20 minutes to speak. And the speaker before you goes overtime and you’ve been asked to cut your presentation by seven minutes.

What a dilemma! How do you get your message across? How will you decide what to leave out? And will management doubt your credibility or punish you for leaving something out?

Most of the time, management is less concerned with what you know while being interested in what you can do. Impress them by showing what you can do with what you know.


5 to 10 Times Rule

What should you do? If you only have two hours of information then you should only speak for about 12 to 24 minutes. Why? Because if you have two hours of material – then most of it will be irrelevant or boring or both. Follow this rule – you should always know at least 5 to 10 times more information than you present.

If you worked on the project and researched the information, you might easily fall into the trap of believing that everything is important and interesting. After all, you sweated over all the details. And more important to you – you want management to recognize your hard work.

You might be afraid to leave something out because that might make you look as if you don’t know everything – or that you didn’t do your homework. You might feel angst about this dilemma. But you can accomplish your goal and satisfy the management team.

Shorten your presentation

Show Your Stuff Without Telling All

How do you appear to know all your ‘stuff’ without telling all your ‘stuff’? How do you make the right impression on management? You might feel that the only way to appear open and honest is to tell everything you know.

The reality is that if you tell everything you know – you are wasting their time and you are demonstrating that you can’t judge what is important and what isn’t. The message that you will convey is that you can’t be trusted to think.

Like it or not you must leave some information out. You must decide on what is most relevant to the audience for this presentation. Learn to do that effectively and you will have more success with your presentations. You will get more support from management and you will be better perceived as management material.

Consider the “5 to 10 times” rule. If you know 5 to 10 times what you actually deliver you will feel more confident while presenting because you will clearly know your stuff. You will give the group your best stuff. And when you get questions – especially the obscure ones – you will handle them skillfully and confidently.

Management will see that there is real substance behind your presentation. That will make them feel more confident about your report and you. It doesn’t matter how much information you present – if they don’t believe you or feel confident about you. Senior management must believe in you. That’s your real bottom line when presenting to management.

So what information do you cut? First, decide on your most important message.

What is it that you want your listeners to feel, say or do after your presentation? For example, are you asking management for approval, budget, or other resources? Do you want them to feel confident that you are handling things well and they can leave you alone? Or are you warning them about a problem that they might need to act upon? Be clear about your key message?


Focus On Your Key Message

Before you start to prepare your presentation, write your key message on a piece of paper and keep that in front of you while preparing your presentation. You should be able to summarize your key message in about six to ten words.  If you can’t do this, then you really don’t understand the purpose of your presentation.

People who present without understanding their purpose are doomed to fail. Check every exhibit, phrase, and fact against that purpose. If something doesn’t help you get your key message across, delete it.

If you sculpt your presentation well enough you might deliver that 20-minute presentation in 17 minutes. Yes, think like a sculptor. Remove the unnecessary clay.

No one will complain that you delivered your message in less time. In fact, take note of the approving nods and smiles around the room when you finish early.


Alternate Realities

Take this method one step further. Because you will deliver similar messages over your career, develop different time versions of each message. Be ready to deliver your key messages in a 20-minute, 5-minute and 90-second format. When you can do that you will be sure to deliver the right presentation at the right time and be more successful in getting what you want.

What can you do if you really want management to have all the information? Give them a printed copy of the detailed report. They can read it if they wish. Most won’t.

But keep your presentation short. Decision makers don’t want mountains of information. They want clarity. The best thing you can do for your business presentations is to make them shorter. Management will reward you.


PS: You’ll never have enough time to convey everything. Be prepared and willing to convey the most important information by prioritizing and leaving something out.


How to Shorten Your Presentation – or simply say less

©George Torok is The Speech Coach for Executives and creator of Superior Presentations. He coaches executives and trains professionals to deliver Superior Presentations.

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