Presentations – Time

As a huge consumer of YouTube presentations (being an Aussie, I don’t have the money or time to fly over to Europe or the US to physically attend conferences) I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the drop in quality of those presentations, so rather than just whinge about it I thought I’d try to help…

Before I get in to the specifics, you may be asking “what’s my authority on this subject” – too easy…

  • I lectured in Computer Science across a wide variety of subjects from Computer Architecture, to most common Programming Languages and even Artificial Intelligence
  • I’ve worked for 3 Vendors doing pre and post sales work, doing everything from the construction and delivery of Technical Training to presentations to CEOs
  • During my 30 years of consulting I’ve created and delivered many internal training courses around Technologies, Architecture, Agile and Kanban, some of which were delivered across the whole of IT. I’ve also created and run “Train the Trainer” courses

BTW I’m not saying I swallowed the Presentation Bible, but I’d like to think that I’ve chewed a few corners over the years, so these are just my thoughts on the subject. Feel free to reuse, improve or feed back on them :)

At the moment I can think of 3 major areas which could help people:

  1. Time– the subject of this post – all too often, many people seem to be trying to incorporate the maximum amount of information to a presentation as possible, not questioning if this is the metric to use. How about the increase in peoples “understanding”?…
  2. Quality– it’s great that there are so many conferences and topics being presented, but people don’t seem to be given adequate training or preparation, so less than 50% of most presentations are “decent” – just my opinion 
  3. Feedback– many presenters don’t seem to be getting adequate feedback or acting on it as I’ve seen the same people making the same mistakes or at times even getting worse!


The Theme today is Time. It’s a finite resource which we all seem to be short on with the increasing demands of our society. As we all know, although it’s heaps of fun, going to a “conference” is a huge “time suck” as you’re away from work and for most people you’ll spend a day or so getting things done before you leave and another one or two catching up on what you missed. Even if you’re just watching a video, it’s probably not at work, so you’re home and that’s time you could be spending with your family, which means you’re making a sacrifice and therefore expect to be rewarded in some form.

Unfortunately, an emerging trend over the past few years seems to be “excessive presentation”. By that, I mean someone having too much information for a presentation which is generally accommodated by either speaking really quickly through too many slides “I’m going to speak really quickly” or “I’m going to go through this really quickly”, skipping a whole bunch “We’ll skip these” or “These are not relevant for this presentation”, or just going until you run out of time and saying “Oh well, I had more, but my time is up”. Whichever way you put it, the presenter is basically saying “You’re not really worth my effort, so I’ll leave it to you to sort all this out” :(

I know that last statement may be contentious, but I think it is a valid subconscious sub-text, so the first suggestion is to “respect your audience”. As pointed out, they’ve made sacrifices to be with you in a room or hall and you are getting “paid”, either materially or reputationally, so surely isn’t it reasonable that you put some effort in to time management of your presentation? So people can then go away with knowledge which will significantly influence and inspire them because it’s valuable, rather than forgetting it (and you) the next day?

Time Management

We all know and have probably read a lot about Time Management, but that’s usually for Projects or People and Presentations are an entirely different beastie as they’re on such a small and intimate scale, irrespective of audience size. A typical presentation could be anywhere from 15 mins to 1 1/2h and people have set aside their valuable time to learn something from you.

As mentioned earlier though, there seems to be a trend of “speed presentations” that has emerged in the past few years, which generally takes one of two forms:

  1. A Literally Fast presentation! One of the key rules of effective presentation is to speak slowly, but I fear that people are not being told that they’re speaking way too fast or don’t realise they are (which you quite often don’t at first). The easiest check and fix for this is to record audio and or video and just listen back to it and adjust.
    Worst of all is people who speak really fast, yet have no remorse – I’ve literally seen speakers introduce themselves by saying “I’m a really fast talker, so this will be a jam packed presentation…” Really? For who? Certainly not for the audience as:
    • Firstly, they will have difficulty understanding the presenter
    • Secondly, even if they can listen to the presenter, the audiences comprehension will be another thing. If a subject is new to someone, they need more and not less time to understand the true meaning of what’s being said
    • Finally, in doing that, the speaker is focusing on their needs and not those of most of their audience. Shouldn’t that be the reverse?
  2. Too Many Slides! This is probably the more common of the two, but it can obviously lead to people speeding up as they get (typically 1/2 way) through and realise that there’s a lot of slides go get through, so they’d better hurry up! There’s an easy fix for this, and that’s planning your presentation which gets back to time management.

The best rough indicator of whether you have too many or few slides can be solved by simple arithmetic – just get the running time (don’t forget not to include question time, if that’s a thing) and divide it by the number of minutes per slide. What’s that though? Most will give you a figure between 2 and 3 mps which is only an overall average, so you may spend 1 minute on one slide and 5 on another. I usually use between 3 and 4, depending on the type of presentation I’m giving. The figures you get will obviously flex, but if you had 30 slides for a 30 minute presentation, I’d be worried.

There is one underlying assumption here, and that’s that you’re using your slides as anchors and talking around them, rather than just the points or content. I think we’ve all seen those presentations where someone literally reads the points on the slide to which the obvious question is “where’s the value-add?” and “why didn’t you just send me the slide pack?”. This gets us to the Quality of your Presentation which will be the next topic.

As preparation for that topic, you may want to think about the topic of “cognitive load” ie how much “brain power” is being consumed as there are physical limitations on how long most people can concentrate for.

PS Any thoughts or suggestions most welcome – just comment below…

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