The 6-minute panel presentation & how to “accordion” your speaking material


When speaking at public forums, like national or regional conferences, or local meetups, you often find yourself on a panel of several other experts.  In these cases, you may be promised 20 minutes for your presentation (with slides or without), but you are unlikely to actually have 20 minutes, especially if you are not the first panelist to present.

And, if you find yourself on a 60- to 75-minute panel with five or more presenters (the usual number), you are more likely to have 6 minutes to present, and another 2 minutes for interjections and comments on other conversations that occur.

It is difficult to make a cogent point, to show your expertise or position the value of your product or service, in 6 minutes.  But it can be done, if you learn to “accordion” your presentations.

This skill gets developed with careful planning, discipline and practice.  One of the reasons you lose your time slot to present is because others do not know how to “time” the material they have to present.  I once had half of a 90 minute presentation (45 minutes, which in truth would have been about 30 minutes, after introductions, and the settling of the crowd).  The other presenter preceded me, with a 10-point outline. Half-way through the 90 minutes, he was on point #2!  And he had assured me that he had practiced and timed his presentation in front of the mirror.

So, you must be prepared to lengthen and shorten your key points, ad hoc.  Here’s how:

  • Create your full, long-form presentation for the most likely time-frame (say, 45 minutes, as you might in a standard webinar presentation).
  • Then, reduce your presentation to its key points, the essential message.  These include your value proposition (of your expertise or your product’s value to the customer), differentiation from your competition, and substantive credibility of your assertions, followed by a subtle “ask” that the audience respond (hire you, buy your product or service, etc.).
  • To reduce the time you have, eliminate all stories you may want to tell in a long-form presentation.  To expand your time-frame, add more success stories, case studies, or examples for your key value proposition(s).
  • To reduce your time, eliminate the “features and benefits” of your service or product, and focus only on the value proposition and rewards the potential client or customer will receive.
  • To expand your time, add details about your value proposition by calling attention to key features and benefits, particularly those that differentiate you from your competition.

The first time I found myself on a panel with 6 minutes to speak (and no warning of it), I made the mistake of telling a simple story, an example that was relevant and well received by the audience.  My talk ran to 10 minutes.  The moderator (who ran the conference) was openly furious.  I was unapologetic, but I learned my lesson:

  • The 6-minute speech can only make a single key point (the value proposition or expertise you are offering), with two supporting points, and a conclusion.  No details, no deep explanations.  Certainly no stories.

Once you have developed your 45 minute presentation that includes all that is relevant to present, you can then “accordion” the presentation to fit into these time frames:

  • 60 minutes, for longer presentations (expand from 45 minute structure by adding more stories and case studies – a favorite of all audiences)
  • 30 minutes, for opportunities when you present on your own, or with one other.
  • 20 minutes,15, 10 and 6 minutes — so you are prepared for anything that arises while you are sitting on a panel.

If you are prepared in advance, and understand the structure of your key points, you will soon learn to extract, ad hoc, the best presentation for any opportunity that offers itself.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *