CLE Presentation Tips: Mastering Time

Many lawyers who deliver a CLE think they are great, or at least good, public speakers, but great public speakers are rare. Attorneys don’t possess some innate excellence at public speaking. There is one thing though, that all great speakers do that virtually any speaker can quickly master: time.

Time awareness, clock management, whatever you want to call it, is essential to giving a good presentation. It is easy to spot when a speaker does not have a good command of scheduling. If you are giving an upcoming CLE, here are three tips that will help you look like you have mastered time.

Entry Level Time Management Tip: You Need a Clock

When you get to the venue for the presentation, look at the walls to see if there is a clock(s). If one is easily visible behind the audience, that is the best candidate for your clock. Confirm that it is working, by checking to see if it shows the same time as your watch or phone. Look again in a few minutes to make sure it’s keeping up. If so, you have an ideal clock that you can glance at throughout the presentation to maintain your schedule.

If there is no clock on the wall behind the audience, then set a timekeeping device (watch or phone) on the podium next to your notes/laptop. You don’t want to look down at your wrist to check your watch. It will look like you are bored or unsure about your schedule.

Pulling your phone out of your pocket to check the time will be just as distracting for your audience, who may suspect that you are checking texts or emails in the middle of your own presentation. If you are planning on using your phone to keep time, it is imperative that it not show texts or any other distractions during your presentation. Airplane mode should suffice. For some people, the distraction of incoming texts can be too enticing to ignore, even while engaged in something as focus-intensive as public speaking.

Intermediate Level Time Management Tip: Make an Outline on Paper

One sure sign of an unprepared speaker is that when they are asked a question, they frantically look at a printed PowerPoint outline, flipping the pages to see if they cover the topic later in the presentation. Worse, they scroll through their electronic presentation to see if the topic shows up later.

It may seem obvious that the speaker should be obligated to know what topics eventually be covered. But frequently, a presentation is a one-time event. The speaker prepares adequately, but they may move things around in the presentation and edit aggressively, adding or removing entire sections. Maybe they created the PowerPoint weeks or even months ago to submit it in advance for CLE approval and they don’t remember all of the details. Perhaps the pressure of actually giving the presentation in front of an audience made it more difficult to remember what was in the presentation and what was left out.

There is an easy, consistent solution to this issue: make a brief outline on paper. The outline should be no more than one page. No flipping necessary. It should be a skeletal description of what is coming up in the presentation, with the minimum amount of detail necessary, limited to the headings of each slide and the sub-topics.

The outline needs to be limited to one page so it can be set on the podium next to your timekeeping device and glanced at whenever necessary to see if something will be covered later in the presentation. By flipping through pages of outlines or slides that are printed out, you are telegraphing to your audience that you don’t know what’s coming next.

Expert Level Time Management Tip: Plan Your Schedule

If there are four sections to your hour-long presentation, it might initially seem logical that they should each cover fifteen minutes. Sometimes, however,  if you really think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your presentation, you may realize that one or two of the topics are your real focus and should take up the majority of your time. It’s fine to apportion the time based on your presentation priorities. The sections do not have to be split up evenly.

Once you have decided how to apportion your time, the next step is to figure out how long each section takes. There’s really only one way to do this: practice the presentation, at least a few times. This will give you a sense of how long the actual presentation will take. Keep in mind that most people speak much faster when they give the actual presentation, but this can be offset by questions that might come up during the presentation

After you have practiced your presentation and have a decent sense of how long each portion will take, the next step is simple. Give yourself time goals. One easy method is to mark where you think you should be in the presentation after each ten-minute segment. You will be able to confirm your place in your presentation with your easily accessible watch/clock/phone.

If you are going long in an early segment, you know you need to limit questions going forward to get to the rest of your presentation. If you have a lot of time to fill following an early segment, encourage questions. This way, you can avoid two possible (and frequent) time management problems: the rushed speech at the end, where the speaker is racing through slides and mentioning a few words on each page to make sure they’ve covered all of the material, or the even more awkward problem: a speaker who stops with twenty minutes left in their hour, staring blankly at the audience, practically pleading for a series of insightful questions to help them fill the remainder of their allotted time.

Know the time. Know the presentation and plan schedule. These three steps will help any CLE look more planned and professional.

1 Comment

  1. Avatar Dawn Lanouette says:

    Another idea for CLE speakers where time is such an issue–have a few things to cover in your outline that won’t matter if you don’t cover them, but will help you use time if you are early. Ideas would be: forms or models relevant to the topic (you can go through filling one out); additional resources for further reading (you can touch on a few of your favorites and why), articles from The Lawyerist or other great websites that you can talk about points from.

    Key is, if you don’t use it, it just looks like reference material. If you do, it looks like part of your presentation.

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