Dear Speaker, Your Time is Up

Peeves make lousy pets, but I own a few nonetheless.

One of my pet peeves is speakers who run long when presenting at conferences. I’m not sure what the speakers are thinking. I can share a few things I’ve heard them say:

  • “I must share this thing I didn’t get to yet, it’s n slides from here.”
  • “There’s 15 minutes between sessions. I can use most of that time to finish my thoughts and answer attendee questions.”
  • “What I have to share is more important than what the next speaker has to share.”

I confess I made that last one up. I’ve never heard a speaker run long and make that statement – out loud – but that is essentially what any long-running speaker is communicating, especially to the next speaker and their attendees.

I’ve seen this behavior in experienced speakers.
I’ve seen this behavior in new speakers.
Running long seems to be no respecter of experience.

Here are some random thoughts about running over your allotted session time:

1. Running Long is Rude

Occupying the podium after your time is up is harmful to:

  • Your attendees, who may wish to get to a subsequent presentation early to get a good – or even just get – a seat at their next session.
  • Attendees of the next session, who may wish to get a good – or even just get – a seat at the upcoming session, the session you are effectively blocking.
  • Conference organizers, who carefully planned a schedule with the hope and intent that speakers would, in fact, abide by said schedule.
  • The next speaker, who may need to plug in a laptop, check A/V, add an IP address to cloud connectivity, and just settle in. Perhaps the next speaker likes to banter with early-arriving attendees. Perhaps they want to use the time to center themselves, get their game face on, and otherwise prepare.

2. You Are Not Bob Ward

Unless you are Bob Ward (or Buck Woody, or Brent Ozar). If you are Bob Ward (or Buck Woody, or Brent Ozar), thank you for reading my blog – or at least this post – and for all the cool stuff you do. For the rest of us…

Most people are not hanging on your every word. One symptom of YED (Young Engineer’s Disease) is solving a problem and believing you have solved all the problems. You probably haven’t solved as many problems as you think.

3. It’s Difficult to Get the Timing Right

I totally get this: You started presenting last year and all the events and user groups where you’ve presented to date either have 75-minute slots or have no time limit. Suddenly you’re given 60, 50, or 45 minutes to present. It’s difficult to pare the topic; you may even believe it’s impossible. Presenters I respect tell me (regularly), “I hate lightning talks! I can never get in everything that needs to be said in 5 or 10 or 15 minutes.”

You need a version of your presentation that’s 3-5 sentences long and lasts less than one minute. If you cannot deliver the heart of your presentation in 3-5 sentences, you need to work on your presentation and your presentation skills. You also need more than a 3-5 -sentence version of your topic; you need versions that are:

  • 5 minutes
  • 10 minutes
  • 15 minutes
  • 20 minutes
  • 30 minutes
  • 45 minutes
  • 50 minutes
  • 60 minutes

Why? Not all conferences give all sessions the same amount of time, much less the amount of time the speaker thinks they need. TED talks are 15-20 minutes. Do you want to do a TED talk? I do. It’s a goal. Every sentence counts in a TED talk.

Does every sentence count in your presentation?
Is that why you are running long? Because you have 67.5 minutes of every sentence counting and you were only given 60 minutes to speak?

4. I Can Hear You Thinking, “What About You, Andy? Huh? HUH?!”

I continually tweak my presentations. Obviously, when presenting on Azure as much as I do, I have to keep up with weekly (sometimes daily) technology changes. I also tweak my presentation style, order of content delivery, what I bring in, what I leave out, and how I say what I say. Do I get it right every time? Goodness no. Just the opposite, in fact: I fail Every. Single. Time. But the presentations mature, improving as they are delivered. Your presentations should also mature.

I also, am not Bob Ward, (or Buck Woody, or Brent Ozar).
Every sentence does not count in my presentations today.
I will never be Bob Ward, (or Buck Woody, or Brent Ozar) but more sentences count in my presentations today than yesterday.

5. How To Respond to a Late-Running Speaker

Unless I’m presenting back-to-back sessions (and organizers, if you schedule a speaker in back-to-back sessions, please keep them in the same room…), I usually sit in the back of the room in the presentation prior to mine. I open VMs and my demos. I open PowerPoint. I make sure my IP can reach cloud resources. I get ready.

At the appointed time for the end of the prior session, I begin moving. I close my laptop, unplug the power supply, collect everything I am going to take to the front of the room for my presentation, fix my eyes on the speaker, and wait in my seat.

I give them a couple-three minutes to wrap up. The previous speaker will notice me looking at them. They will figure it out. Probably.

If they don’t figure it out after a couple-three minutes, I stand up and walk to a front corner of the room, carrying all my stuff. I keep my eyes on the speaker, still. Most of the time this works, leaving me 9-10 minutes in a 15-minute break between sessions. Sometimes this doesn’t work.

If that doesn’t work after 3 minutes, I begin moving towards the podium and staging my setup – setting my laptop on a chair or the floor behind the scenes, plugging it in, and attempting to remain out of Mr. Answering-These-Questions-Are-More-Important-Than-Anything-You-Need-To-Share-Or-Do’s way.

If that doesn’t work, I politely ask the previous speaker if I can help them move their gear from the podium to someplace other the place I need to setup for my presentation that is scheduled to begin in 5-7 minutes. Some react as if I’m being rude. That’s cool because I am being rude. Polite didn’t work. I escalated.

6. As The Speaker…

Most of my presentations end with applause. Not all, but most. I begin tearing down before the attendees finish applauding. Someone – usually multiple someones – has / have a question. They approach the podium to ask their question.

I politely ask them to hold their question(s) for one minute while I clear the podium for the next speaker. I try to help the next speaker set up, even. For example, I’m usually unplugging my power supply. I’ll offer to plug in their power supply while my hands and attention are in the area of the power plug.

My goal is to be off the platform and in a corner or the hallway within 90 seconds.

Conclusion

You may not like the tone of this post.

Good.

If I struck a nerve, I believe you had a nerve that needed striking. I promise I am trying to help. If you didn’t realize you were being a jackhole, now you know. They’re called “blind spots” for a reason. Now you see. Do better.

Peace.

Update

The post Brent mentions in his comment below is awesome. Check out A Presenter’s Guide to Running Out of Time!

Andy Leonard

andyleonard.blog

Christian, husband, dad, grandpa, Data Philosopher, Data Engineer, SSIS and Biml guy. I was cloud before cloud was cool, :{>

7 thoughts on “Dear Speaker, Your Time is Up

  1. Hi Andy,

    I must say I disagree with #2 of your blog post.

    I know Brent Ozar but I do not know who is Bob Ward or Buck Woody.

    In any case, they must never go over the time, no one is bigger than audience (the ultimate king)

  2. This is a fantastic blog post and something I do care utmost. When I see session hour as 1 hour… I believe that means, we start the session, present everything and at the end of the last minutes – wind up everything and make space for the next speaker.

    I always annoy me when the speaker before me takes forever to answer the audience’s questions and do not leave the podium until my session starts.. With that said I have never got the courage to tell them to end the session as well, I always wait till they give me an opportunity.

  3. As a speaker, I always make it a point to end on time, even cutting it short if I have to. I’ll also immediately grab my stuff and move over to the side to answer any questions the attendees have, so as not to be in the way of the next speaker setting up.

    However I have actually had the opposite happen to me. I was on stage giving a presentation with about 15 minutes of time left when the lady speaking after me came in, with a very nasty attitude, and began setting her stuff up at the podium….while I was there talking. One of the attendees told her that it wasn’t her time yet, she argued a bit before discovering that her clock was wrong (and so was she).

  4. Totally agreed. In my mind though, an even more egregious speaker sin (one I’ve never had trouble avoiding – lol) is finishing *way* earlier than the session length. I’ve seen people finish 15-30 minutes early in a 75 minute presentation. That shows a lack of prep and no thought for extra material/demos ‘just in case’. Then the audience is left thinking they didn’t get their money’s worth. Thanks

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