Abraham Lincoln used only 272 words when wrote the Gettysburg Address. It remains not only one of America’s most famous presentations but also a seminar in delivering big ideas in a small amount of time. It took him about two minutes to deliver the Gettysburg Address.
When was the last time you heard someone say at the end of a speech or presentation, “Wow, I wish that had been longer?” Probably never. The challenge with speeches and presentations isn’t making them longer. It’s making them shorter.
Legend has it Mark Twain once wrote a friend a three-page letter then added the post script, “Sorry I wrote such a long letter. Didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” Mark Twain understood an essential principle: Making things shorter requires editing, and that takes time.
Here are three ways (that won’t take too much time) that will help you shorten your speech or presentation:
- Use Word Count
If you wrote out your speech or presentation, use your word processor’s word count tool. Whatever number you get, cut it in half. That smaller word count number is the ideal length of the speech or presentation. Cut out as much as possible to get down to that smaller word count without cutting out any essential ideas.
2. Build Around Three Big Ideas
Ask yourself, when this speech or presentation is finished what are the three big ideas I want people to remember and talk about? Three. Not four. Not five. Three. I originally set out to share five ways to shorten a speech or presentation. Once I began writing this section, I followed my own advice and made it three. Most people can remember one, two, or three things from watching a TV show, seeing a movie, reading an article, or sitting through a speech or presentation. Limit your big picture target to three things. If you currently have more than three in your speech/presentation, do what I did: Take them out.
3. Eliminate the Overview Slide
Great movies don’t start with a PowerPoint slide that outlines everything you’ll see in the movie. Why should presentations? Probably because either your boss told you to do that or because you’ve seen so many other presentations that did that. It doesn’t work. It bores people. Just get started. If you’re compelling the audience will follow you. If you’re not compelling you’ll lose the audience at the opening slide because they’ll see how much you’re going to cover, exhale, and start looking at their phone. Just get going. You speech or presentation will get up to speed much quicker and your audience will appreciate it.
At first, like Mark Twain, you’ll discover that it takes a little longer to come in a little tighter, but here’s something Mark Twain never got around to mentioning: As these practices become a habit, they’ll shave time off of preparation because you will think more freely at first, knowing you’ll cut it down. You’ll build around three ideas in the first place, and you’ll start to uncouple the beginning of your program from PowerPoint.