Far too often, I see presenters quickly skip over a slide, moving quickly on to the next. Sometimes they will flip through several slides in a row before continuing their presentation. Maybe they say something such as “Let’s skip this because time’s running short” or maybe they say nothing and just start talking again at the new position in the deck.
I don’t mean to sound accusatory, but… Oh what the heck… I DO mean to sound accusatory. This is terrible presentation etiquette and is completely avoidable with a little time spent on better preparation.
In most cases, the plain and simple fact is that the presenter has not rehearsed the presentation out loud. If you don’t recite the entire speech, word-for-word as if an audience was listening, there is no way to judge your timing. And we almost always misjudge in favor of too much material and not enough time to get through it.
If your webinar is scheduled for 60 minutes, calculate all the minutes spent outside your presentation slides. Perhaps 10-15 minutes for Q&A, 2 minutes of introductions and instructions to the audience, 2 minutes of wrap-up instructions and thank-you’s at the end, and 2 minutes of dead time waiting for poll results to come in or other interactivity time. So the “60-minute webinar” is very likely to give you only 40 minutes of speaking time. If you create a 60-minute talk, you are doomed to failure before you start.
Then as you quickly skim through your finished slides in a private review, it seems like some concepts are trivial and will fly by quickly. But once you start talking to that unseen audience and you can’t hear any response or see heads nodding, the natural reaction is to fill the silence with more and more words. An unrehearsed presenter will always spend way too long on the first five slides. They dedicate massive amounts of time to introductions, setting up the talk, going over the agenda, and trying to settle in and feel comfortable in this unnerving environment of talking to the air. Those first five slides have now sabotaged the final 10-12 slides.
But let’s say I’m being unnecessarily harsh. You rehearsed your timings, you were prepared, and something in the webinar took longer than planned. You got started late, you hit a technical glitch, you had to spend extra time waiting for audience responses. Now you get towards the end of your talk and you find yourself running long. What do you do?
A well-prepared presenter has an “emergency jettison” plan. You pick a few specific slides towards the end that could be omitted without destroying the flow and continuity of your talk. You plan to present them, but just in case… They are expendable in an emergency. You won’t mention them, you won’t signal your audience that you are skipping things you planned to show them. Your magic phrase is: “You will see in the handout slides that I have included some additional reference material you can study on your own.” That makes the handouts a value-added bonus, not evidence of omission during the live webinar.
But how do you skip those slides without making it obvious? That depends on the type of webinar software you are using. Products that let you upload your slides to the conferencing room ahead of time should always have a way to direct-access a slide. Some of them do this by having you type the desired slide number in a “go-to” box. Some show you thumbnail images or titles of your slides in a list, letting you click on a desired slide to show the audience. Easy. You just have to know how to use the feature.
Products that rely on screen sharing typically involve you showing your PowerPoint presentation in slideshow mode on your computer. A little-known feature of PowerPoint is that while you are in slideshow mode, you can type a number on your keyboard and press the enter key. PowerPoint immediately displays that slide number. So you can type in the slide number following your emergency jettison section and go directly to that point, without flipping through slides too rapidly for your audience to follow.
Your goal is to make the audience believe they are always seeing and hearing exactly what you intended them to see and hear. Don’t give them a reason to make complaints such as “she skipped over content I wanted to see” or “the presenter seemed rushed and had to skim over some points.”