Your Questions: What do you do when your boss spins his hands in the air to Get you to wrap it up?

This brings up several related questions: how do you keep track of time when you are speaking? And how do you wrap up when you realize you are out of time, or you are not going to be allowed to finish as planned?

Let’s look at the question of time. It is very difficult to register time while you are presenting, so you will need practice and some help with timing. Rehearsing your presentation using a timer, or another person who can time you is a must. During these rehearsals, see how close you are to your time allotment. If you have to rush to make your time limit, cut out a few minutes of content, giving you more leeway in case of a few questions or asides. It is usually better to wrap up a few minutes early than a few minutes late, especially when people need to move on to their next meetings. Be sure you can hit the mark consistently in your rehearsals.

In addition, you might preselect one or two areas you could cut in a pinch; let’s say, maybe you give one example instead of two, or touch on highlights instead of discussing every point. When you see you are running short of time you will know exactly what you can do to speed up your delivery.

During the presentation, set a timer on your smart phone. Turn off the sound but place the phone where you can see it. If you set it to count down, each time you glance at it you will have instant feedback on how much time is remaining. You might make note of where you should be at a given time, for example, halfway through the slides when your time is halfway up, so you can rapidly decide how the timing is going.

Now for your boss. Before your next presentation, let him know how his signal is affecting your concentration, and see if you can agree on whether you need this “wrap up” signal. If you do, or your boss insists, then try to arrange for a subtler signal. Maybe she could glance at her watch, or touch her left ear. If you agree on the signal, it should be less distracting and less obvious to others.

Now for your closing. Many times, we are rushed at the end of a presentation, and our closing suffers. Maybe you were asked to reduce the length of your presentation at the last minute. Maybe you got a late start, you had more questions than expected, or your delivery just moved more slowly than expected. It happens.

OK, take a breath. Don’t just trail off with a weak, “well, I see we are out of time.” Or “I guess that is all I have.” If you have planned an ending, you can often move directly to it. Whether it is a final summary, a Targeted Message, or a call to action, ending with a sense of closure leaves a much better impression.  

Finally, if you often struggle with time and run over or skip Q&A, consider creating a high-level overview with more time for discussion. Or ask trusted audience members if you are getting too deep into details and analysis. You might even consider a briefing with a detailed handout for those who want more.