In a debriefing conversation with Scott Rader about his teaching the UST MBC course “Communication Technology” via the Internet, an unforeseen development occurred. Scott informed me that on a student peer-evaluation of final project presentations (which I attended), one student noted that I had been “nasty.” We were both somewhat confused. Having attended as an observer, and other than contributing some comments extending discussion during Q&A, I said very little. Then it dawned on us that I had been made timekeeper for the presentations. Each group was to have 20 minutes to deliver their prepared presentation, and then field questions for 10 minutes. A few of the groups got pressed for time at the end. I simply gave them a “time’s up” sign, and didn’t indicate they could spill over. I was silent, but clearly firm that the presentation had to end at that point.
As made clear in these posts before, I’ve been in the communication business a long time. In those years, ad sales reps never offered an extra few seconds in television time because I couldn’t make my point in a 30-second spot. No potential client allowed me to leave late for lunch. No student thanked me for dragging on past the end of class, even though the “bell had rung.” No one ever applauded and thanked me for going long on a luncheon presentation.
The reason people go long – often with the best intentions – is that they believe you and I will get so much more if they say more. In truth, we are lucky to recall any specific facts from a presentation within minutes of its end. We may capture and hold a concept or two for a while, but mostly we walk away with general impressions, and possibly a motivation to learn a bit more.
Experience suggests that people always like a pitch or speech to finish before they check the time. If you are among those gifted enough in communicating that people hang on every word, then pontificate at will. The rest of us need to arrive well practiced, with fewer slides and notes; speak clearly; make few points; and hope people get one good thought for every 20 minutes. (And finish in 15).