Monday, August 4, 2014

Communicating Takes Time

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This week I'm working on the presentation I'm going to give at my association's major conference in two weeks. As CEO, it's part of my job to make these presentations, speaking from the podium about the things the association is doing and keeping the members up to speed on important updates and initiatives.

When I started doing this seven years ago, it was a time-consuming process that I didn't enjoy and which I wasn't very good at. Figuring out what I was going to say, writing it down and rehearsing it, and finding the right pictures, graphics and words to put on the screen behind me while I was delivering each part of the message seemed to take forever. Thinking in terms of the Powerpoint presentation that would eventually get built, I would estimate that the entire process took about 30 minutes per slide--two entire working days for a 30-slide presentation.

Now, after all those years of experience, I'd like to think that I'm much better at it. And I know that I enjoy it more. But guess what? It still takes me about 30 minutes per slide. There's no getting around it. Communicating the right information, in the right way, without confusing or overwhelming your audience--it takes time. I can't do it effectively without appropriate preparation.

One lesson I've learned is not to compete with your slides. Bold images and only a handful of words seem to work best. It's not revolutionary advice. You can get it from hundreds of websites and books on how to give effective presentations. But like most things in life, learning from your own mistakes will always make a bigger impression on you than the words of someone else. One time looking out into your audience, and realizing that they aren't listening to you because they're too busy trying to read all the words you've put in front of them, and you'll remember to think more carefully about how the images on the screen can support the words coming out of your mouth.

Another lesson I've learned--with difficulty--is to slow down. Nobody will remember anything if you're rushing through your script, anxious to get to the end and get off the stage. You have to enjoy your time there--or at least appear like you do--and that means taking your time. One of my strategies for dealing with the nerves I sometimes still feel is to only prepare 25 minutes of material for a 30-minute time slot. Knowing that I've got time to spare helps me slow down and put the proper emphasis on things that need emphasizing. In contrast, if I've got 35 minutes of material for that 30-minute slot, I'm going to be focused on getting through things as quickly as I can.

Good communications take time to prepare, and I think they should also take time to deliver. If you want to improve your communication skills, I would advise you not to rush either.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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