Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the most quoted, most revered American speech, took the president about 2 and a half minutes to deliver.
Most of us speak too long when making a presentation. Is it because we think that longer is better? Longer is more serious? Longer is more credible? We pad the copy. We fill it with clichés. We introduce side bar topics.
Make your presentation focused. It should be about a single point. Make your point early. Dramatize it in the middle and summarize why it is so important at the end. If you can find an additional way to make your point, by all means do so. That’s not padding. That’s driving home the takeaway message. In his opening line below Lincoln addresses the takeaway thought – equality. In his closing line he reinforces the same thought.
It takes great discipline to end a presentation after two or three minutes, but if that’s all you need to dramatize your point, all the better. No one has ever complained that a presentation was too short.
Before you write your next presentation, read the Gettysburg Address. Stand up and read it aloud. You’ll be inspired with how powerful those few lines are. Then, write your presentation.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
If it helps, write the initial draft long hand while wearing a stove-pipe hat.