How Much Time Should I Spend Preparing for a Presentation? The Presentation Time Breakdown

I get this question from audience members nearly every time I present – how much time should I spend to prepare for my presentation? Although it really depends on your presenting skills and comfort level with the information you’re sharing, I do have some rules of thumb when it comes to presentation practice. I call it the Speak Simple Presentation Time Breakdown.

For every hour you present, you want to spend 10x that preparing! Preparing your presentation includes your strategy, brainstorm, outline, walk through, visual aid, practice, dress rehearsal, and even your debrief afterward. When you break out the steps, my 10x suggestion sounds more realistic. Unfortunately, most people spend a 1:1 ratio or less.

Many speakers spend less than an hour to create a visual aid for their hour long presentation, and they skip the strategy and have no rehearsal either. I see this as disrespectful to your audience who gives up a lot to attend your presentation.

These last minute presenters are also the ones to run out the door following their speaking engagement, and they discount the ROI of educational presentations. You won’t connect with your audience when you’re not prepared and do not engage them, especially if you leave immediately. Many audience members wait to ask specific questions following the presentation, and that is the time to collect business cards and initiate a business relationship. If you skip this vital step, your chances of a good ROI from your presentation are close to 0%, so you need to put the time into your presentation.

Speak Simple’s Presentation Time Breakdown

speaksimple_prep_piechartLet’s go in chronological order:

  • Strategy & Logistics – 8%: If you skip this first step, the rest of the steps become harder and most problems with presentations start here. Determine the logistics like when are you speaking, where are you presenting, and who & why are you speaking so you can figure out what you’re going to present.
  • Brainstorm & Outline [Your Presentation] – 15%: Think of all the things you could say on your presentation topic, then whittle them down to three points that fit the audience’s needs best. [I call this being audience-centric.] I suggest using notecards to brainstorm so you can easily arrange them into an outline.
  • Practice Your Presentation – 50%: Do a rough walk through of your outline before digging into your visual aid, that is why I listed it before the creating your visual aid step.
    You need to practice the presentation enough to be comfortable with what you’re going to say and the order of the presentation. If things feel disconnected and your transitions are awkward, it is okay to change them and it may mean your order is out of sync or your point doesn’t fit this presentation.
    Wean yourself off of your outline/script so you can concentrate on your audience (and so they can focus on you). Also, do a dress rehearsal to make sure you can move in your presentation attire and it does not get tangled in your props. (Ladies, keep in mind some outfits, like tight fitting dresses, can be difficult to hold a lavaliere microphone.)
  • Create Your Visual Aid – 12%: When you have your strategy and outline in place, and you’ve done a walk through of your presentation, then it is time to create your visual aid. Keep in mind, your visual aid should not be your outline or your script. Use large pictures with short headlines of 5-7 words to jog your memory. Your slides should be a thumbnail reminder, not everything you’re going to say. Otherwise, you are useless as a presenter because your audience can read the slides if you include everything on them. (This tactic is particularly the case for webinars where your audience is staring at the screen already.)
  • web_offer_banner_2losingPresent Your Presentation – 10%: My rule of thumb is to prepare 10x your presentation’s length, as in a 10:1 ratio. Therefore, you should prepare and practice up to 10 hours for an hour long presentation. Shorter presentations, such as 10-minute presentations, may still need a similar 10 hour preparation if the material is new to you, if you struggle to condense and simplify your message, are unfamiliar with the visual aid software, or new to presenting. Don’t worry, it gets faster as you go because your presentation skills don’t vanish, they only get more refined.
  • Debrief – 5%: Debriefing is another commonly skipped step, yet it is vital to continually improve. Following the presentation, consider what you can do better next time, both in your presentation preparation process and the actual delivery. Don’t beat yourself up about little things because the audience usually doesn’t notice small things and only you know what was supposed to happen or be said. Think constructively and continually improve your speaking skills.

I said in a previous post that a presentation is like an iceberg. The audience only sees the “performance,” not all your hard work preparing for it.

Let me know your thoughts on my presentation time breakdown and if I can help answer any of your questions about making your perfect presentation.

Additional Resources

How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being a good presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.

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