Four tips from five-minute presentations

Networking events which group together a number of short presentations are creating a buzz.

There’s Pecha Kucha Night, which started out to allow young designers to showcase their work:

Each presenter is allowed 20 images, each shown for 20 seconds each – giving 6 minutes 40 seconds of fame before the next presenter is up. This keeps presentations concise, the interest level up, and gives more people the chance to show.

There’s Ignite which has more of a geek flavour:

If you had five minutes on stage what would you say? What if you only got 20 slides and they rotated automatically after 15 seconds?

and in Wellington, New Zealand we have 7×7:

It’s an ideas forum and networking evening where seven speakers have seven minutes to present an insight into their work and their vision for New Zealand.

7×7 was originally inspired by TED, the grandaddy of them all:

The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes.

What does the popularity of these formats tell us about presenting?

  1. Short presentations can effectively cover big ideas.
  2. A short presentation is often better than a longer one.
  3. Audiences like short presentations (if it’s boring or if the topic isn’t of any interest to you, it’s not going to go one for too long).
  4. Audiences like variety.

Why is a short presentation better than a longer one?

More thought has been put into it. That’s because the presenter has been forced to:

  1. Think hard about the main thing they want to get across to the audience in that short amount of time. So a short presentation is more likely to have a clear focus.
  2. Narrow the scope and/or the depth of what they present. They know they can’t cover everything there is too know about their topic. So they’re less likely to overwhelm the audience with information.
  3. Plan what they want to say – rather than just talking to a few bullet-points scribbled on the back of an envelope – because they don’t have the luxury of rambling on till they get to the point.
  4. Edit. Editing improves the presentation.

For all these reasons, preparing a short presentation often takes longer than preparing a long one. And that work pays off. So even when you’re giving a longer presentation, start preparing as if you were making a five minute presentation:

  • make sure you’ve got a clear focus,
  • plan what you want to say,
  • narrow the scope/depth, and
  • edit.

Your presentation will be the better for it.

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