At Christian Communicators Conference, we work hard to help speakers learn how to time their messages. Invariably the question will come up, “How long should a presentation be?” The answer is simple. As long as it needs to be.
Here are four needs to consider as you develop, organize, practice, and promote your messages.
1. The Needs of the Event Planner. Good event planners spend a large amount of time planning the schedule. The timing of the meal, the worship music or entertainment, and sessions with other speakers are all carefully planned out, often to the minute. Using more than your allotted amount of time can throw the entire event off-track.
I spoke for a state-wide denominational conference several years ago where the event planner asked me to please stay within my time limit. I assured her I would, and even asked her to give me a sign when I had 10 minutes left. She thanked me and then told of a prior year when a speaker went 15 minutes over. By the time the ladies stopped by the restroom and transitioned to the new class, some of the ladies missed the opening 25 minutes of their next breakout session. Others were supposed to eat on the first rotating lunch shift, but the extra time caused them to come in with the 2nd group, disrupting the entire feeding plan for hundreds of people. By the time all the ladies had eaten, some missed part of the general session where important denominational decisions were to be decided. The entire day’s plans were wrecked because one speaker decided her plans were more important than everyone else’s.
2. The Needs of the Audience. How long can you really hold the audience’s attention with that particular message? Let’s face it, all presentations are not created equal. Humorous, entertaining sessions can usually last longer than more academic ones, so take that into consideration as you prepare.
The ability to read your audience interest is a skill you’ll want to develop. Watch for facial expressions, body language, eye contact (or lack of!), fidgeting, watch-watching, and exiting attendees. It doesn’t matter how good you think your program is, if you’re seeing signs of disinterest, ramp up the delivery and end early, if necessary. And referring back to #1, moms often come to events leaving children with babysitters who are also on a schedule. If you go over, even by just a few minutes, moms can get worried and distracted as they worry about rising babysitting costs, kids staying up past bedtimes, and complicated transportation issues.
Be sure to consider the restroom needs of the audience as well. They will thank you for it.
3. The Needs of the Schedule Itself. But what if you’re not the one at fault? What if you’re following an overly-wordy speaker? I can promise you that even if you speak your allotted amount of time after others have gone over, you will most likely be viewed as the culprit. When audience members look at their watches and see that it’s 12:10 and you were supposed to end at 12:00, they automatically point the finger at you, even if it’s not your fault.
I’ve learned in that situation to ask the event planner what she would like me to do. She may want you to still deliver your full presentation, but more often than not, she’ll ask you to try to end close to the closing time so the event can stay on schedule. The good news is, if you sacrifice part of your program for her schedule, you’ll not only help her save face, but you’ll also be seen as a team player, rather than a diva.
4. The Needs of the Message. As Christian speakers, we must be flexible and be prepared to deliver the core message in any given time frame. If time is running out and you still have three points to cover, cut to the core of the point and discard extensive explanations and examples. I’ve even simply listed some of the points in order to be able to share all the main headings and close with clarity and conviction.
So there they are, four needs address as you step up to the podium. Always be considerate of others as you deliver the message God has given you to share, and pray for guidance for those times when things don’t go as expected.
After all, it’s not about us.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves… Philippians 2:3 (NIV)
Grace and peace,
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