How an 8-year old girl keeps your presentation from going overtime

The annual Ig Nobel Prizes were held on September 13th this year. The Ig Nobel Prize ceremony rewards research that ‘first make people laugh, and then think’. Some of the winners this year: the research into whether riding on some types of roller-coasters is an effective way of removing kidney stones (turns out it is), or the research into whether you could actually survive on cannibalism (turns out you can’t).

One thing is for sure: you’ll see plenty more humor here than at any other conference. But what could you learn from this event?

Put an 8-year old girl on stage

First off: things don’t always have to be serious.

The Ig Nobel Prizes are a series of long-standing crazy traditions. The audience throws paper airplanes onto the stage, the prizes are often mediocre crafts being awarded by real Nobel laureates, and last but not least there is an 8-year old girl who will adamantly urge speakers to stop speaking when their presentations go overtime. That little girl can also help you to keep your presentation within bounds.

Please stop, I’m bored

During the Ig Nobel awards ceremony in 1998, many of the researchers went over their speaking time. As a result, the ceremony took longer than scheduled, people wanted to go home and some speakers were given less time to speak. Something had to change, and so in 1998 Miss Sweetie Poo was introduced: a cute little 8-year old girl wearing a frilly white dress.

Whenever a speaker goes over his or her time, Miss Sweetie Poo will march right up to the researcher and cry out: ‘Please stop, I’m bored’. She continues doing this, in a quite irritating manner too, until the speaker stops speaking. Turns out this is a very effective way of making even the most serious researcher round off his talk with a smile.

Miss Sweetie Poo solves two problems at once:

  1. Adults would never say this
    Have you ever seen an adult timekeeper ‘urge’ another adult to round off? Often, this person will position himself to the side of the stage, clear his throat and make a couple of subtle hand gestures (that are of course noticed by the entire audience) to signal the speaker to stop talking.
    Far from effective. The speaker will, more than once, pretend to not see the timekeeper, or will simply interpret the signal as ‘I must have another five minutes’.
  2. The speaker does not feel offended and will immediately stop
    The girl walks onto the stage; the audience will often see her approaching before the speaker does. You hear them giggle. Although the speaker will soon crack a smile too, his eyes will reveal that he sure would have liked to continue speaking.But this girl can’t be ignored. ‘Oh, I’m in trouble’, the speaker says and he will exit the stage. If you clearly inform the presenters beforehand that this little girl will appear as soon as they go overtime, they will certainly have no issue with this and will not feel offended.

How can you use this to your advantage?

As an organizer:

Determine a clear signal to make speakers round off their talk. This could be a countdown alarm, someone in a monkey costume appearing on the stage, perhaps someone ringing a bell, or simply closing the curtain on them. Whichever trick you choose, keep in mind:

  1. Make it something no speaker can ignore. You holding up a stop sign can easily be ignored by the speaker. Just as easily as some moderator coming to cough to the side of the stage. You want that speaker to stop speaking. Now.
  2. Announce your time management system in advance, to both the audience as well as the speaker. Very important. This way you won’t catch the speaker by surprise and they can even prepare for the possibility of going overtime. This shows respect for the speaker, he will be able to laugh things off and better prepare his talk.

As a speaker:

Imagine you’re on stage with an eight year old telling you she’s bored.

The organizers may not have a time management system in place. This means you will need to keep yourself in check. And no, even when you have everyone captivated, you may not just keep going. Ten minutes is ten minutes, a half hour is a half hour.

Just recently, I presented at the amazing Fri3d Camp. Due to technical issues, my scheduled half hour talk was delayed by ten minutes. What did I do? I cut down my presentation to ten minutes. That hurt, as I had meant to share something very interesting in those last ten minutes, but I didn’t do it out of respect for the next speaker.

But what if you do go overtime? Just imagine an 8-year old girl walking over to you on stage, saying: ‘Please stop, I’m bored’. And while this may crush your speaker’s heart and you probably had one hundred more interesting facts to share, do not go overtime. Period.

5 rules of thumb for effective time management

Nonetheless afraid of going overtime? Read our blog post “Never go overtime again during your presentation’

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4 extra tips & tricks for researchers
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