Imagine a typical public speaking scenario. You stand all alone, presenting a topic to the audience. You don’t know what’s going on inside their heads when you speak. You look at the time and…
10 minutes remaining
Then you start wondering:
“Why is it still so long? I wish the duration of my talk was shorter.”
Well, what if I tell you that a shorter speaking time does not necessarily translate to an easier speaking experience?
At the beginning of December 2019, I was selected to be one of the speakers at GoConf, Gojek’s first ever internal conference that hosted a wide array of presentation topics, such as machine learning, software engineering, UX research, and organization building. I submitted a proposal discussing how fact packs could ease collaborations between different teams in a product group.
Long story short, my proposal was accepted!
However, my proposal didn’t score high enough to secure the 30-minute main speaker spot. Instead, I got a slot in the “Lightning Talk” category, in which each speaker gets 5 minutes to deliver their talk.
At first, I was relieved because I didn’t have to speak in front of so many people for 30 minutes. But then I learned that speaking in such a short duration has its own unique problems:
The duration of our talk will determine its content and complexity. The longer the duration, the more freedom we have to increase our topic’s complexity and vice versa.
So if I’m to speak for 5 minutes, my topic should be short and simple, right?
But my mistake was I didn’t think about this when I put my topic together 😓
My topic (fact packs) was divided into 4 segments:
My final deck consisted of 20-ish slides, with my peers telling me that the content was very compact for a 5-minute session. But I forced myself to stick with that composition because I knew my audience were mostly unaware about fact packs, which are among the most important outputs from the research division. I felt compelled to represent and increase the exposure of my division to a wider audience at Gojek.
The consequence? I was perplexed on how I would deliver such a compact topic in just 5 minutes :)
The more complex our topic, the more comprehensive we should explain it (clarity). But this will take up more time, so we must compensate for that by speaking faster (pacing).
Because my topic was so compact, that was exactly what I did. I sacrificed the pacing to offer more clarity to the audience.
Of course that was not the best choice by default. After my talk, I received feedback from some people in the audience who felt that I talked too fast.
Now that I reflect on how the audience were mostly unaware of the topic, there was also the possibility of them having an “information overload”, as the consequence of me insisting to explain so many things at once, which could lead to them losing interest in my talk.
One of the things I like from watching people giving talks is when they go off-script, such as spontaneously interact with the audience or tell numerous stories/examples to amplify the impact of their topics. Sadly, when our speaking time is short, our flexibility to go off-script is also hampered.
I used a timer to practice finishing my talk on time while also having a few moments to spare. I had also systematically structured my talk to let me know exactly what to say and what comes after.
Unfortunately, those made me feel that my talk had become somehow “robotic”. I was literally reading from a script and afraid to take risks by improvising (gave more examples, interacted with the audience, etc.) because it would consume more time and increase the risk of running out of time.
Speaking in front of people is indeed nerve-racking, regardless of the duration.
From my 5-minute speaking experience, I’ve learned to be mindful of the topic’s complexity, prepare for a trade-off between pacing vs. clarity, and anticipate less freedom to go off-script.
Despite everything, I believe that public speaking is still a valuable opportunity to improve yourself, so don’t hesitate to seize the opportunity and do your best!
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