In my last newsletter I wrote about knowing when to stop talking in a conversation. This week I will give suggestions on when to stop in a presentation.
A general rule is to stop when audience interest is at its peak, whether telling a story or considering the whole presentation. When telling a story, the speaker should have a sense of direction. Never take too long to describe a scene, and don’t take too long to get to the point of the story. When you get to the point of the story—stop! Don’t explain and review the story after the punch line; this is the time to move on. If you feel a need to explain the story, you probably have not done a good job of telling the story in the first place.
Don’t spend ten minutes on the introduction even if it is a long speech. Two to three minutes is enough to get you into the body of your presentation. An audience decides in the opening minutes whether to listen or not. If you take too long to get into the heart of your message, the audience will lose interest. In the opening, get the attention of the audience with a startling statement, quotation, humor, story, or question. Next, give a preview of what you plan to cover in the speech. Then move directly into the heart of your presentation. Avoid talking about the weather (they already know that), the audience members (unless you’re expected to recognize an important dignitary there), or the person who introduced you (they probably already know that person.)
If you are telling what you consider to be a funny story and the audience does not respond the way you think it should, do not explain what you think they may have missed—just move on to your next point. To save time and awkwardness, don’t begin by saying you are about to tell a funny story; that way if no one laughs you can proceed to your next point more smoothly.
Knowing when to end the presentation is significant as well. Know before you begin to speak how much time you have to speak and then stop a couple of minutes before time is up. Our culture is very time-conscious, and even with a great presentation, if you go over time, the audience will not think you are as effective as if you had stayed under the time limit.
The point of a presentation is not just to share information with an audience; it is also to know when to stop sharing information. Leave the audience wanting to hear more. You know you have succeeded when you hear departing audience members saying, “Time went so fast. I could have listened for another hour.”