Former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.” This is excellent advice for a speaker, especially one who is giving a short presentation.
Yet, as many people have remarked, preparing for a short presentation is most often more difficult than preparing for a longer one.
This is because you need to be much more focused. In a short talk there can be nothing extraneous. Not that this shouldn’t be true for a longer presentation, but it is especially true when you have to start and finish your message within a very short time frame.
You need to limit examples, stories, and jokes. And the ones you use have to take up little time.
A short presentation has to be both more concise and more precise. For instance, you might choose to talk about your hobby of stamp collecting. In a longer speech you may include how you became interested in the subject, how you got start, how you decided to specialize in collecting a certain sort of stamp, and how this led to your trying to track down a limited issue stamp to add to your collection. In a two- or three-minute speech you don’t have time for all this. You need to narrow your topic. So finally you settle on talking about how you’ve been trying for months or years to track down that one rare stamp that still eludes you.
More so than with longer presentations, you need to decide on a simple central idea, something that can be covered quickly. You should then limit your supporting material to three or four points. For example:
- how you first heard about this particular stamp
- a short history of when, where, and why the stamp came into being
- why the stamp is important to you
- what you’ve been doing to track down one of the stamps for your collection
Covering these four points certainly will provide enough material for a two or three minute presentation.
An advantage of short presentations is that they often come across as more compelling. The main points in the supporting material come across more like a jackhammer, rather than like the lilting beat of a longer speech. The audience has to pay strict careful attention, which is easier for them to do when the presentation is short and there is time for woolgathering. And since the presentation is free of extraneous material, it can be much easier for the audience to follow.
So if you are told you have only a minute or two or three in which to present your material, don’t despair. Though it may take a little longer to narrow your top and trim down the material to make it fit the time limits, it gives you a chance to say something important very quickly – before the audience is ready stop listening. As the great American showman P.T. Barnum said: “Always leave them [the audience] wanting more.”