I am very lucky, privileged, to have been able to attend a goodly number of workshops and conferences. That may be because my bosses realize that I need all the help I can get. Or perhaps they realize that in such a creative and changing field as interpretation, exposure to the latest and greatest ideas will pay off back at work as I spread that creativity, enthusiasm and motivation across the park system. Attending workshops is a truly wonderful thing if a manager wants his staff to be leaders, thinkers, creative, and know the latest techniques and technology. All that doesn’t even include one of the most important benefits—meeting people who do what you do, sharing successes, and the valuable networking that continues for years after the workshop.
As in most things, presenters at workshops vary. I have seen the level of quality increase dramatically over my years of attending, to the point that it’s now very difficult to choose one session over another. That’s a good thing. I’ve also noticed that two things often go wrong.
In several conferences this year I realized there was one thing common among many speakers — they didn’t know how to stop. Seems pretty simple doesn’t it. But remember that these are interpreters and, like an opera singer, when you give them the stage you’re gonna get the aria. Interpreters are speakers, they are good at it, they like it, and they prepare for it. That means they aren’t so good at watching the clock. It seems that once an interpreter gets started it’s like a locomotive leading a long line of loaded boxcars – stopping isn’t so easy.
Two things were common: First, it seemed that many speakers hadn’t given heed to the time they were allotted. They got the floor and they weren’t going to give it up! 15-minute presentations rolled on for 30-minutes or more. This wreaks a conference timetable, and can wreck a conference. Plus, the audience knows the agenda and gets wall-eyed and anxious and pays more attention to the clock than to the presentation. The solution: Be disciplined. Pay attention to your instructions and PRACTICE your presentation TO FIT your time. Seems simple doesn’t it. (Must not work.) Clearly, the speaker has so many interesting things to say they MUST say them all. (If you can’t do that in your allotted time, then you can’t do that.) Length doesn’t equate to a good presentation.
GET THE KNIFE – you’ve got to cut! This takes discipline and consideration for the conference planer and especially your audience. Ask: What is the most important element of this talk? What is the most useful thing I have to say? What is relevant to my audience? That’s your story and stick to it! Telling the audience everything you know is telling them too much. By cutting your presentation to the most useful elements you give your audience your most important message and it’s something they can take home and put to use. That is a valuable presentation.
Last, once they reached the end, many presenters didn’t know how to stop. Some almost stopped … some more than once … then they thought of something else and launched into 10 more minutes –UGH! The audience was done, but the speaker wasn’t!
Others asked the deadly question: Are there any questions? That’s a NO-NO, especially in a conference setting where sessions have limits and you’ve used all your time, then you ask: Are there any questions? … and dang it – someone has one… and the program lunges on, overtime, another 15 minutes. Don’t even go there!
Try these strategies for smoothly concluding your program: First, identify exactly what you want your audience to remember, repeat that as a concluding statement. Then state something like. “I’ll be right here and will be happy to answer your questions. Thanks for attending the presentation.” Then the session is over on schedule, the audience is free to go, and those with questions have an invitation to approach you and ask.
Sometimes questions are a valuable part of a program. Do that within your program time. It’s also okay, within your time limit, to note you’ll take two or three questions. This way your audience knows what they are in for. When those questions are asked, make the statement above reminding them of your most important message, and dismiss the audience.
Questions aren’t a bad thing, but they can quickly divert the audience’s thoughts from your message. You can also lose control if the presentation becomes a question-asking session, and by lengthening the program with a lot of questions you trap your audience.
Closing a presentation with a smooth conclusion that includes a reminder of your most important point and avoids 15-minutes of questions is really quite simple, but is a skill to learn by practice. Your audience will appreciate you for it, and they will leave focused on the point of your presentation.