From the boardrooms to the classrooms, we have all been there. I remember back in my school days before powerpoint, I would have 75 notecards to present in the 15 minutes I was given by my Global Studies teacher to talk about the history of violence in El Salvador. Somehow I thought that by the time we all made it into the “real world”, our expectations of ourselves and our audiences would have become a bit more realistic. Of course, what I have come to learn is that as our experience in that ever-so-real world grows, our expectations become ever-so unattainable.

Let’s meet Charlie. He’s a well-intentioned senior manager at a consumer products company (any similarity to real events, real people or companies is purely accidental). He wants to give an update to his team on corporate priorities, communicate brand strategy and talk about a specific initiative he needs the group to focus on. Oh! And he would like a Q&A session. So, like any diligent manager, he schedules himself 2 hours. 90 minutes for his presentation and 30 minutes for questions. Charlie comes to me for some support on his presentation and, as I watch in horror, goes through the 200 slides he has prepared for his epic speech to the masses.

What’s the first thing I tell Charlie? You’ve got 30 minutes, no more. In the world of pause buttons, Tivos and 1000 cable channels, 90 minutes of listening to the same person talk just doesn’t fly anymore and except for maybe 19th century political rallies, I am not sure it ever did. There’s a reason sitcoms are 30 minutes, 17 of content if you subtract the commercials. People can only concentrate for so much time on one topic and one speaker. And unless they are taking a crash course for the SAT, can’t remember loads of detail either.

“But…” Charlie says, “I only see this part of my group 1 or 2 times a year. They need to hear this from me.”

And the truth is, they do need to hear corporate priorities and brand strategy from Charlie. And they need to know how that new initiative will affect their daily work. However, the sobering reality is, they just can’t take it in all at one setting. And when you multiply 90 minutes by the 150 people Charlie was going to have in the room by an average yearly salary 0f 50,000, that $5000 better be focused on results.

So a few tips for those of you who, like Charlie, just finished slide 199 for their 90 minute presentation:

  • Less is more — simplify your message and your audience will leave with a clear directive
  • Most people take 2-3 minutes on each slide (practice, though, because some people take 10!)
  • Always start with motivation — why is it important that the audience listen?
  • Seek out feedback — find out what you did well and how you could improve
  • And…follow up your talk with helpful reminders to your teams over the next couple of weeks

And my favorite three words of advice for presenters:

  • Prepare
  • Rehearse
  • Revise

Your audience will thank you for it. Stay tuned for more presentation advice. Next up: 10 slides I never want to see again!