Presentation Skills Expert

Out of Time in a Business or Sales Presentation? Do’s & Don’ts

It happens to the best of keynoters, business presenters, and sales professionals. No matter their experience or how often they’ve rehearsed, the unexpected can happen to throw things off schedule:

––The fire alarm sounds during their talk and everyone is asked to leave the building immediately until further notice. The audience returns 15 minutes later. Instead of having 30 minutes of your 40-minute time slot remaining, you now have 15 to make your presentation.

––The speaker before them runs overtime.

––Someone in the audience faints or has a heart attack.

––A helicopter lands on the hotel roof to pick up an executive, and obliterates the sound and diverts attention for five minutes.

––The CEO decision maker interrupts to ask a question or make a point and assumes the floor for an exorbitantly long time.

(And yes, all of these things have happened during my presentations.)

Obviously, when any of these things occur, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your presentation plans. So rather than panic, how do you take such things in stride and still deliver a polished presentation? First, the don’ts…


  • Don’t appear to be harried, flustered, or disorganized.
  • Don’t simply talk faster to deliver the same content in the shorter time period.
  • Don’t reduce your content by trying to make all the same points and simply omit the elaboration on those points (examples, stories, illustrations).
  • Don’t show the same slideshow, and just click through slides you don’t have time to cover. (Audiences will invariably feel shortchanged—that they are missing key information. Or if you quickly click through slides saying, “This really isn’t that important,” they will wonder why you included the slide in the first place.)
  • Don’t show frustration or anger toward a questioner if they ask a question that slows you down in your race to “get it all in.”



  • Do confirm with your “host,” customer, group, or meeting planner (if there’s opportunity) whether you should stay with the original ending time for your presentation. (In the case of a fire drill or an earlier speaker running longer, for example, the host or customer may want to adjust the schedule as you begin your presentation to allow you to take the originally intended time. If you do need to reduce your time, then see the following item here.)
  • Do have a Plan B in mind—always—for multiple ways to get across your key message in varying time increments. For example, ideally you might need 45 minutes to do your best sales presentation. But if you have only 30 minutes, what would you say and which slides might you show? And if you had only 20 minutes, what points would you make and which slides would you show? What about in 10 minutes? Five minutes? Memorize these skeleton presentation outlines, along with the key slide numbers that you’d use for each. In fact, on a slow day, build those slideshows separately. (You can thank me later.) When the time comes that you need one of those shows, you’ll simply open up the appropriate show and continue your presentation as if you had anticipated the interruption. No panic at all.
  • Do always know the slide number of your key slides so you can move forward in your show, skipping unneeded slides (as opposed to clicking through them in full view of the audience).
  • Do continue to speak at your normal rate so that you’re enunciating clearly and refrain from letting your voice trail off in the rush to get to the next point.
  • Do remember that you are there for your audience’s benefit. It’s far better that they understand the few key points you do communicate than that they “hear” all the points you intended to “cover.”


Like many things––humor, sports, and love––it’s all in the timing.


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