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May 5, 2011

What to do when your time is cut short?

In another part of the Toastmasters interview (see prior post) with Scott Berkun. they asked him if he encountered the situation where he showed up for, say, a 60-min presentation and the organizers asked him to cut it to 30 or even 15 minutes and, if so, how he handled it.

blue clock face pictureHearing that I immediately thought, “whoa, that’s just like what happens when my time with some senior person suddenly gets cut in half, or worse.”

Scott’s plan
His answer was interesting, not too surprising, but good advice.  He said it happened sometimes and he’d learned to plan for it and not let it get him upset.  To summarize and paraphrase, his response was:

  • You have to plan for it so it doesn’t destroy your ability to be effective.
  • Lay out ‘N’ points that you want to make. N is 3-5 and allocate whatever time you started out with based on the priority of the points. If you’re cut short, reallocate the time on-the-fly.
  • If there isn’t enough to even minimally address all ‘N’ points, allocate whatever you have to the top point or two, and list the others.
  • You also need to have the 30-sec or 1 minute “elevator speech” version, get the bottom line in, offer follow-up, and quit.

That’s great advice and it got me to thinking about applying it to what happens to me or, probably, to you.  So, here’s my thoughts on that to add to Scott’s advice.

Assume you won’t get the scheduled time
Personally, whenever I’m going in to brief a senior person, I start with the assumption the appointment will be half of what I’m told. If I get the full time that’s great—more discussion time or I can make them happy by giving them back a few minutes of their day. I’ve even found that when I can pull it off, just being the presenter who finished under the time is often enough to get a kudo–and get remembered!

Remember the ‘elevator speech
Like Scott, I’ve also learned that I’d better have the less-than-a-minute version to go with the “just leave the slides and I’ll look at it” event. That also works for the case where you only get that brief moment to talk as the person walks out on the way to whatever just preempted your time.

“Just leave the slides
When the “just leave the slides” thing happens, what they get is my leave-behind paper, with or without the slides. Done correctly, the slides aren’t useful without the presenter, and I really don’t want to leave them. But often there’s no choice–it’s what they expect so I’ll leave them, but only with the summary sheet laying on top (which is what they really need). The more senior the person and/or the more important the brief, the more effort I’ll spend on the leave-behind package which will be a 1 -2 page summary sheet and, maybe, slides under it.

Have a plan!

However we handle it, planning for how we deal with getting cut short is crucial. It is going to happen.

Be prepared so it doesn’t destroy your ability to make an impact!

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