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Many presentations quick? How to do that!

Let’s say you have to get through 7 presentations in just 30 minutes or less. If you are the moderator or facilitator, how do you manage this?

In this spontaneous video from his office, Craig explains three techniques for how to manage multiple presentations.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. Here’s my office. I’m getting ready to facilitate a meeting this afternoon, but I wanted to take a minute and explain three techniques that I use as a facilitator when I’ve got to get through a lot of presentations quick.

Here are the three techniques:

  • Advance Agreement
  • Do the Math
  • Facilitator Fidgets

I’m going to explain each of these to you in a second but here’s when you might use these techniques: Let’s say you have to moderate a panel discussion. You know, you’ve got three or five people. You’ve got so much time. You want to give them equal time to do the presentation, etc. These techniques can work for that.

Another circumstance when you might want to use these techniques is what we might call “small group reports” or “table discussion reports.” You divide your large group into small groups and each group has some specific instructions and then one person from each group or each table reports to everybody. You might have to do a lot of presentations quickly.

First technique: Advance Agreement. If you can talk with your panelists ahead of time, get agreement on three things. First of all, how much time do they expect to talk? You know, figure that out in advance and get them to agree. Second thing, how questions will be answered. Do you want people to interrupt or hold until the end? My preference is generally hold to the end and let me moderate the questions, but its helpful if you get an agreement with your panelist on that. Third thing, would you like me to give you some warning as you’re nearing the end of your time? Nine times out of ten they will say yes, that would be very helpful. And I’ll say, okay, how about if I give you a five minute warning and then a two minute warning? Whatever it is, agree ahead. Make up some little signs. You can hold up a sign like this. That works well particularly if you’re at the back of the room and maybe you, like, wander off the stage and stand at the back for the presentations. Hold up the signs so other people can’t see them or even if you’re right in front of everyone, that’s okay. But you have to be in view of the panelists so they can make eye contact.

It often happens that the facilitator is just situated so even if they wanted to, they cannot get the attention of the person making a presentation. So a little aside there: make sure that you can maintain eye contact with your presenter throughout the presentation. And get advance agreement on those three things: (1) How long to talk, (2) How questions will be answered, and (3) Would they like the facilitator’s help with timing.

Second technique: Do the Math. This is really good for spontaneous presentations like group reports. Look, when we design the agenda we might not be sure how many groups we’re going to have and how much time we’re going to have for presentations. So as a facilitator, I’m very transparent about this and I’ll say, “Okay, look, we got seven tables here and we got about 30 minutes to hear seven presentations. Let’s just do the math. 30÷7…..well I know that 3×7 is 21….how about if we do three minutes each? If each person has three minutes we should be done well ahead of 30 minutes. Does that sound okay everybody?” And everybody will say “Yeah, that sounds great.”

Still modeling: “Okay, so I’m going to ask for somebody to go first, but first let me pull out my cell phone here,” and I will literally pull out my cell phone and I’ll tell everybody, “Okay” — and set the timer for three minutes — “now when this timer goes off you don’t have to stop abruptly but when the timer goes off it’s kind of time to wrap up. Does that sound okay? We’ll give everybody three minutes and I’ll set the timer.” And everybody in the audience will say “Yes, that’s a good idea.” Okay, now I’ve got group agreement. We’ve done the math together and everybody can see that three minutes makes sense if we want to hear from all seven people.

Then I will say, “Okay, who wants to go first?” I will not arbitrarily call on somebody because I want that person who goes first to be someone who thinks they can do it in three minutes! And chances are they will and the volunteer will come up and they’ll do the presentation and I will set the cell phone timer and they will be so nervous that that clock is running that they will almost always finish up way ahead of time. And you know what? When they do, I’ll look down at the clock and say, “Awesome! That was great! Two minutes and 17 seconds! Nice job. Let’s give them a round of applause.” We’ll all clap and now the bar is set. Second person will come up and chances are they’ll do it in under three minutes, no problem. Now the pattern is set and you know what? I don’t even really need to run the clock anymore. People will do it quick and we will do all seven presentations probably well under 21 minutes.

Third technique: Facilitator Fidgets. Now it may be that somebody does start to run over time and here’s where the third technique comes in. It’s called facilitator fidgets and here’s how it works. The first person is presenting and I will, like, give them the stage, if you will. I will even sit down and here I am with my cell phone and I’m listening attentively to what they say. As the time starts approaching three minutes or whatever time we have agreed on, I will…

Well first of all, if I’ve actually run the cell phone timer I will let that cell phone timer ring out loud so everybody can hear it, mid-sentence, even in the middle of a dramatic story, whenever it is! I don’t have to decide when to interrupt the speaker, I let the cell phone interrupt the speaker.

So that’s one thing you can do, but if you don’t have that cell phone timer going and you don’t set it up that way and the person is starting to go on too long, I will just start fidgeting a little bit closer to the edge of my seat. I’ll try to get the person’s eye contact. I’ll draw them into me by agreeing with what they say. I may look at my watch in view of everybody, and maybe even so that the presenter catches me looking at my watch. If they are going over, like, way too long and it’s clear to everyone in the room that this person is going on way too long, I’ll stand up. And I won’t say anything yet.

The last thing I want to do is embarrass or offend that person by abruptly interrupting them. So I’m giving them cues because they may not even realize that they’re going over time. So in a graceful, tactful way I’m giving them cues and one of those cues is that I’ll stand up and and I’ll just look at them. And chances are they will start wrapping up.

Now there are those presenters who, even with all these progressively more dramatic facilitator fidgets,  will not stop talking! And for that person, I grab the hook. Look, this is a shepherd’s crook that,  sometimes as a joke, I bring with me to meetings to help presenters move along.  The idea is that if they go on too long I will just grab them and pull them off the stage! I have never actually done that. All I have to do is reach for the shepherd’s crook and that seems to be enough.

So okay, look, there you go: three techniques for helping get through several presentations quickly: advance agreement, do the math right in front of everybody, facilitator fidgets.

And by the way this shepherd’s crook is not just a facilitation tool. I used to have sheep. My wife bought this for me, and I used to actually use this when I had to catch a sheep or herd them. But it’s pretty fun to take to meetings!

Thanks a lot everybody. Have a great day. I hope that you make good group decisions!

2 thoughts on “Many presentations quick? How to do that!

  1. As a professional speaker I get everyone on board prior to breaking them up into groups. What Freshley points out is the significance of getting attendees to agree to how and when they will stop small discussion and how they are expected to back to the larger group. Everyone knows what is expected of them. This works!

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