How to keep your presenters on-time in 3 simple steps.

A presenter going over-time--even if they're thrilling and captivating--can really throw off your event. (And most of the time a presenter going over-time is LESS than thrilling and captivating, which is even more of a hassle.)

Aside from making throat-cutting "END NOW" motions from the back of the ballroom, how do you make sure your presenter stays within their allotted time?
Here are three ways:

1. Ask them how much time they need, don't tell them how much time they have.

This is during the initial planning phase--obviously you have to set some time limits, presenters who want 50 minutes may not be able to have it within the constraints of the event.

However, telling a presenter they have 45 minutes is going to cause them to fill the 45 minutes (plus some)...even if they only have 20 minutes of content. Ask your presenter how much time they NEED to do their presentation. They may only have 10 minutes--and may only need 10 minutes--and giving you their needed time helps keep them accountable for their own presentation.

2. Help focus their presentation.

A lot of presentations are done independently without a broader insight into the meeting as a whole. Helping presenters to focus their presentation--whether they're professional or internal--both keeps them to the message AND keeps them on time. For instance, if your motivational speaker is used to giving presentations to sales audiences--and your audience is full of computer programmers--not only might some of their messages/anecdotes be off target, but they may contribute to them going long.

Internal speakers may allow you to have a bit more control in working with the content. Remind them of the limits of the working memory--the average adult attention span is 5-7 minutes unless the content is presented in a new or novel way. The more important their information, the more important it is to keep the presentation short and focused. Otherwise all the addendums and additions will be lost on the audience...and will actually detract from the message as a whole.

3. Get them off the stage. 

Almost every event producer has experience with speaker-timer-blindness. It's that not-so-rare phenomenon where speakers SEE the speaker timer flashing that their time is up, but they blatantly ignore it. "Just 5 more minutes" for every speaker leads to missing needed breaks, cutting into important networking time, and even throwing off schedules for group activities.

So how do you give your presenters the hook without looking like the bad guy? Warn them in advance--and let the audience know--that if presenters go over they'll be interrupted. Getting permission to do this at the beginning of the event--for all presenters--makes it a friendly (and sometimes humorous) tactic. It also lets the audience know that you and the presenters respect their time.

For instance, we were at a show where each presenter had 7-15 minutes to speak. Presentations were slotted into the agenda with precision timing--there wasn't room for presenters to even go 30 seconds over their time because it would all add up. At the beginning of the event, we had our co-emcee (an AniMated parrot character) state that if anyone went over time he would be the birdie on their shoulder--popping up to escort them gently off the stage. ONE presenter went over-time (and was escorted promptly off stage, to the delight of the audience and presenter), but there were no other time transgressions (unheard of at this particular event).
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