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How to Give an Effective and Powerful Short Presentation
By Chris King

You've been asked to speak for five to ten minutes on your specialty and/or passion. You may be part of a panel with each panel member given a specified time limit. Or, you may be one of several presenters at a specialized conference and each of you will share part of a keynote address. Or, you may have been asked to open a conference session with a few words on the major topic. Or, you have taken my advice and have joined a Toastmasters Club to perfect your presentation skills.

Your first speech will be a four to six minute presentation with a timer keeping track of every second. And, following that first speech, every other presentation - mostly short in length - will be timed. Personally, I feel that giving a short, five to ten minute, presentation is one of the most demanding and difficult assignments. In this article, I will share tips of how to deal with and ways I have dealt with this challenge.

Start by accepting the time limit and making sure that you prepare for it. If we want to be known as professionals, we must realize that when a meeting planner gives us five minutes, he or she means five minutes. Yes, I know that there are always speakers who don't pay any attention and take up much more of the time allotted. These are speakers who are often not asked back, even if they are super on the platform. And, even when they are terrific, audience members who are aware of the time limit start focusing on the fact that the speaker is going way over his or her time and that is the part of the presentation they remember.

Recently, I set up a panel of six community leaders. Each was told they had eight minutes maximum. Five of them stayed under or right at that limit, while one - who was passionate about his topic and a good speaker - went way over. After the event, someone who wasn't there told me that he had heard that the speakers were all wonderful except the one who went way over, "I heard that ___ spoke much too long." The same person in question has asked me for five minutes at an upcoming meeting and I have put him off, because I feel that I can't trust him to stay within five minutes. Our performances - both good and bad - stay with us.

Realize that a short speech can be more compelling than a longer one, but takes even more preparation. When we've been asked to speak about a topic we're passionate about, how in the world can we say what we want and need to in five minutes? I feel that it takes a lot more work, because we have to compress a topic down to its essence. There are many questions to ask ourselves while preparing - and, by now, you know how important preparation is.

Questions to consider include:

  • What is my goal for this presentation?
  • What is the most important message I want listeners to leave with?
  • If I wrote a one sentence description of my presentation, what would it say?
  • If I were to write a list of the keywords for the presentation, what words would be on the list?
  • What is the theme? And what are the three major points?
  • What action do I want audience members to take upon hearing my presentation?

Even though I never suggest memorizing a presentation, I suggest for a short presentation with a time limit to write out a draft or outline. Take the draft or the outline, and either read or speak a sample into a tape recorder. Then listen and time your presentation. You will get a good idea of how long it will take. By listening to yourself, you will pick up the stronger and weaker parts. You will discover what to delete and what to elaborate upon. A way to plan a five minute talk is to allow a minute for the opening, one minute for each of the three points you want to make and one minute for the close. If you think of it in five parts, it will be a lot easier to plan. Even if you have been given eight minutes, I still suggest planning for five or six. It never hurts to come in a little under the time limit. Everyone will appreciate it. If there are other presenters involved, you will stand out as the pro, because most of them will go over their time limit.

Get used to being timed and enlist the aid of a timer. The first time I spoke at my Toastmasters Club, the timing made me terribly nervous. The way our club - and many of the clubs - worked the timing was with colored lights. For a five minute speech, the green light would come on at three minutes, the yellow light at four minutes, and the red light at five minutes. It took me awhile to get used to the lights, but I feel that using them improved my speaking and my awareness of timing. I planned my talks, so that when the green light came on, I knew exactly how to use the final two minutes and, with work, achieved ending right on time with a punch. For strictly timed presentations, I would ask a friend in the front row to inconspicuously hold up a sign that says "3 minutes" then "2 minutes", then "1 minute." You will be amazed by how quickly you can gauge your own time accurately. And, one of the quickest ways to get used to preparing and giving short presentations that are powerful and punchy is to join a Toastmasters International Club and work through the manuals.

You will also discover that working under time constraints will help you clarify the messages in your presentations. What will seem a huge challenge in the beginning will become one of your favorite ways of presenting. So, if you have an important point to make, you will be able to honestly ask for five minutes at a meeting and only use five or fewer. You will also find that when a group is looking for a succinct spokesperson, your name will come to mind. Go for it! Let me hear how you fare. I love getting your FEEDBACK!

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