The 20-minute Presentation Checklist

On a trip overseas I attended a medical symposium featuring short, back-to-back presentations. What I sat through amounted to a much better sleep aid than Ambien (I actually counted 7 sleeping participants in the room!).  It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you’re given 20 minutes, or 15 minutes, or even 5 minutes to make your point, you don’t need to jam everything you ever learned into that precious time.  It won’t make you look smarter.

Let’s take a look at what’s possible.  Below are three TED Talks that I find to be amazing examples of short presentations.

1) William Kamkwamba: How I Harnessed The Wind

(a 6-minute example)


2) Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing

(a 16-minute example)


3) Jane McGonigal: The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years Of Life

(a 20-minute example)


How to Give a 20 Minute Presentation

How can you emulate these presentations the next time you’re asked to make a short presentation – in a staff meeting or in a public symposium?  Try incorporating the following elements:

  1. The Title: Who doesn’t want to know more just by reading these titles?
  2. The Hook: Within the first minute, there’s a reason for me to pay attention – whether it’s looking at photos of an empty grocery store or how I can increase my lifespan. There’s something in these presentations for me.
  3. Physical Barriers Removed: There’s no podium between the speaker and the audience. The speaker just feels more accessible.
  4. Attractive Visual Aids: Though PowerPoint is used, there’s not a single template. There are no bullet points. The slides have vivid, dramatic images and few words. Even statistics and scientific evidence is easy to digest.
  5. Encourage Active Listening: The Jane McGonigal presentation especially uses this strategy by giving the audience an assignment at the beginning (“I want you to think about how you’ll spend your extra minutes and hours of life”). She also intersperses questions throughout, inviting the audience to think for a moment before she proceeds.
  6. Concrete, Real-life Examples: We could have been exposed to the numbers of people without power in Malawi or mind-numbing charts on the science behind gaming, but the presenters instead chose to share stories and make an emotional connection. Since we live in the real world (and not in theory or in books), presentations are more gripping when they’re about what we do and how the numbers or the theories actually impact us.
  7. Belief: Each presenter shared their passion through their obvious preparation, their voice intonations and they allowed their personalities to show. They’re not just smart, but they care about both their topic and their audience.
  8. Tying It All Together: The speakers didn’t simply end by saying “thank you.” Their thank-you to the audience came in the form of a brief summary, wrap-up and call to action.

The next time you have a chance to present, don’t just do what’s easy. Use some of these elements and do what’s meaningful!

What inspiration have you gotten from TED talks? Have you used this formula to sharpen your 20-minute presentation?

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