Thursday, December 27, 2007

Are we the real problem with delays?

Received these among comments to my "How to Break 6 Association Habits" post. Questions where the real problem may be in ensuring speakers end their presentations on time ...

"Cindy, I'm going push back a little bit on #1. As someone who has been on both sides of the challenge you're describing, I think a more flexible approach is in the best interest of the learner. With short breaks, unrealistic travel times and in-room announcements, sessions often end up shortened through no fault of the speaker. And, if a session goes five minutes beyond the appointed time because the participants are engaged in a good conversation, I don't see anything wrong that.

I agree that speakers who allow sessions to drag far beyond scheduled end times aren't doing their jobs. But the goal of our meetings is (or should be) to support learning, and that is not an outcome that conforms to our preset schedules."

From speaker who gives large volume of presentations to associations:

"Your recent blog described how association executives need to control speakers who go over the time alloted. As a professional speaker I offer you another view. In my experience associations are poor at presentation time management. Sessions do not start on time. When I am told to make a one hour presentation I rarely actually get one hour. The President wants to 'say a few words', or the lobbyist wants to 'briefly cover a pressing political issue', or the person introducing me decides to wax eloquently on a personal topic while at the podium, or a dignitary is introduced (who says a few words), or there is a drawing, etc. I had one Association break into my presentation for 15 minutes for 'surprise treats' that were not scheduled. So an hour quickly becomes 45 minutes or less, a two hour presentation becomes an hour and a half, etc.

As a result I do not give detailed outlines in advance to distribute as I am not sure how much material I will have time to cover. My outlines are brief and screen slides are few among many blanks so I can adjust on the fly. I have two or three presentations on my computer screen before I start so when I am actually introduced I can launch the correct presentation length.

The for-profit world is much more precise by starting on time, one minute allowed for introductions, five minutes set aside at the end for Q&A, etc. So I have learned to be prepared depending on the type of organization that is sponsoring the presentation. That way we both are satisfied with the result."

My additional comments:

1. I speak frequently too and agree speaker's time is often shortened. Huge problem when 20 minute presentation needs to shorten by 10 minutes, so in that case, yes may need to go over 3 or 4 minutes. Bigger situation when speaker has 3 hours and distributes 40 pages of handouts; then with 15 minutes and 20 pages to go announces "we may need to run over". 30 vs. 3 minutes. I really will cut them off. Some try to cram in too much material or get hung up on complicated questions. Need to plan/manage speaking time.

2. Ability to go 5 minutes over depends on format. Conferences may only have 15-30 minutes between classes, and need that time. Room can't get refreshed and next speaker can't set-up in time if prior speaker and class don't leave.

3. Agree moderator, president or staff can kill the speaker's time with extra agenda items or not setting aside time correctly. "This will only take a minute" - doesn't. Another example is live check presentations where recipient gets to "say a few words". Don't let them talk or plan 10 minutes per receipient - they'll talk. Waiting to let the buffet start until everyone seated huge delay issue too. If any table seated, let them start.

4. It's such a lose-lose. If program runs over, people may not sign up again because they can't trust organization to respect their time schedule; if a speaker is short-changed with time attendees may be disappointed they didn't get what they came for. And we wonder why people don't attend meetings?

Will be at retreat with group of local presidents in a few weeks. Now adding "This will only take a minute (not)" to their discussion agenda. Thanks so much for commenting!

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