Timing is Everything

By Heather Baldwin
As much as you want to differentiate your presentation from that of the competition, there’s one thing they’ll always have in common: time. You both have to work within an allotted timeframe and you both must make the most of the time of day you’re scheduled to speak. Still, you can outshine your rivals by keeping in mind these important time-related points, says Patrick Henry Hansen, founder of Patrick Henry & Associates (www.patrickhenryinc.com) and author of Winning Presentations: Persuasion Skills From Great Moments in History (Brave Publishing, 2005).
Be on time. A no-brainer, right? Not necessarily. When you’re presenting in an unfamiliar city, you might find the extra half hour you gave yourself to get to the location quickly disintegrates after a few wrong turns. Hansen offers these tips to ensure you don’t lose the sale due to tardiness: (1) ask your host to fax or email detailed directions to the presentation site, (2) have names and phone numbers of several attendees who might be able to assist you if you get lost, (3) if possible, conduct a pre-presentation site visit to familiarize yourself with the location and (4) calculate travel and departure times to ensure arrival at the presentation location at least an hour before you are scheduled to speak.
Refer to the timeframe. You and the prospect have agreed to a specific length of time for your presentation. Put the audience at ease by letting them know you’re aware of and committed to it. At the beginning of your presentation, Hansen recommends saying something such as: I understand we have until 11:00 a.m., is that right? “That simple question confirms two things,” says Hansen. “First, the allotted timeframe. Second, that you are aware of it.”
Get permission before your time runneth over. One of the first rules of presentations is that you must always end on time. Running over your allotted presentation time wastes a client’s time – think money – and lessens your credibility. Still, no one is perfect. Sometimes you might need just a few more minutes beyond your allotted time to finish up. What should you do in those cases? Get permission, says Hansen, who recommends saying something such as: I committed to finish my presentation within one hour and it looks like my time is quickly coming to a close. Would it be acceptable for me to take an extra 10 minutes and address a few important points concerning ABC product? If you get the nod, great. If not, respect the decision and close on time. You’ll gain far more credibility by cutting it short to meet the time limit than trying to squeeze in a couple more sentences.

Be aware of the time of day. The day and time you give your presentation matters, so if you’re in a position to choose, choose wisely. Avoid Fridays and Mondays, says Hansen. On Fridays, especially Friday afternoons, people lose their ability to concentrate as they begin looking forward to a couple days off. Mondays are equally dangerous because people typically are focused on organizing their week, setting up appointments and scheduling meetings. Finally, try to avoid scheduling a presentation after lunch. Regardless of how energetic a speaker you are, people will struggle to concentrate when what they really want to do is take a nap.