There are many ways that a speaker can bore an audience, including speaking for too long. Consider all the presentations you've had to sit through. If the speaker droned on, drowning you in data and details, you likely tuned out.
There's a reason why the popular TEDTalk videos are only 18 minutes long. "[That's] long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention," TED curator Chris Anderson said in an interview with Carmine Gallo, author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds. "By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline."
Here are five ways you might discipline yourself for your presentations.
1. Apply the I.B.I. Rule
The I.B.I. rule stands for "interesting but irrelevant." Consider applying this rule to everything in your presentation. For example, are you telling an anecdote to help make a point or just because it's interesting? Is every image in your slides crucial to clarifying your point or merely decorative? Are your slides bullet-infested? Is your audience becoming woozy from the excessive number of slides you use? Be ruthless in eliminating anything that's not directly related to your key point.
2. The Three Knows
Consider these three knowledge divisions:
- Must know: This is the information that's directly related to your key message. Create the necessary slides for this part.
- Should know: In this category, you might include any background information that's important to know but doesn't need to take up your time when you address your audience. This is material that you can include in your handout or background summary.
- Could know: This sits in your back pocket. It’s the optional "nice to know" parts you might address if you notice your presentation is moving faster than expected. This information may also come out in the question-and-answer period.
3. Use the PechaKucha Method
PechaKucha is a presentation format in which you display 20 slides for 20 seconds each for a total of six minutes and 40 seconds. The slides, which are made up of images with little or no text, advance automatically.
This forces you to strictly organize the sequence you'll use to present your information. It also forces you to know your material thoroughly and to only include the core of what you have to say. PechaKucha may help if you're prone to digress, because it keeps you focused on your key message by forcing you to stay in sync with your slides.
PechaKucha also requires you to practice your presentation until you know it cold. This may be a good cure for those who like to wing it—the result is a better presentation that respects the audience by not forcing them to sit through a talk where the presenter rambles on while thinking out loud. Since the entire presentation is less than seven minutes long, practicing it many times hopefully won’t be a time burden.
Here are a few guidelines for presenting with PechaKucha:
- Start by writing your script for each of the 20 slides.
- Time your practice so you know what you're going to say on each slide.
- Review your timings in the slide sorter to make sure you spoke for 20 or less seconds on each.
- Select images and other graphic representations to replace your script.
- Choose only images that tell your story, not just decorative images.
- Avoid distracting images or images that need too much effort to be understood.
- You can also use more than one image per slide to communicate your thoughts. Because the images are a substitute for words, audiences are able to get your message faster than having to wade through text slides.
- If a point requires more than 20 seconds to make, you can use two slides to deliver the message, which will give you 40 seconds.
4. Try the "Ignite" Format
Ignite is another fast-paced speaking format that works on the same principles as PechaKucha. The difference is that the Ignite format calls for 20 slides, each displayed for 15 seconds, giving speakers just five minutes to complete their presentation. Watch author Scott Berkun deliver an engaging example of an Ignite talk.
While you may not want your speech to be as short as Ignite suggests, let the format inspire you to be succinct in your talks. Consider adapting this style to deliver more engaging presentations that are visual, concise and fast-paced. For example, if you have to speak for 15 minutes, you might want to try combining three Ignite presentations into one dynamic presentation. You can also opt to advance the slides manually to give you more control. Give it a try.
5. Consider the Lessig Style
One of the most powerful and engaging ways to present is by using a method pioneered by Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Harvard Law School and TED speaker. The "Lessig Method" of presenting incorporates slides that include content made up of images, brief quotes and sometimes even just a single word. To see an example of Lessig in action, watch his TED talk: "Laws That Choke Creativity." "No bullet points.
The discipline to pare down your comments and find creative ways to replace mind-numbing all-text slides may prevent people from tuning you out and will make you stand out as an engaging speaker.
Above all, it will likely give you an opportunity to ensure that your key message is heard.
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This article was originally published on September 9, 2014.