Stretch For Time
Instead of dreading the fear-inducing "stretch for time" note, it's easy to make it an opportunity to shine.
This note might be one of your worst nightmares. For me, it’s a rare opportunity that I embrace. Below are two words to help you prepare for, and not fear, being asked to “stretch” if you’re speaking, presenting, or hosting at an event.
It starts with being as familiar as you can with the entire event Agenda, listening to everyone else who is speaking, and constantly thinking of ideas to contribute, even when you’re not scheduled to speak, and even if you never get a chance to use them.
Just such a note was passed to me last week at a two-day Summit I was hosting. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve hosted a golf tournament, at which we broke a fundraising record for St. Joseph’s Health Centre Foundation, and a Business Awards Gala at which I helped transform a large arena space into an intimate comedy venue for the Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce. At each, there were moments when I had to “stretch” a bit. There are almost always a few minutes to fill with short, unexpected technical delays, meal service coordination, and Agenda changes. But, the Summit “stretch” was a doozy.
In the time slot after one of the Keynote presentations, I had created an interactive trivia session for a planned bridge before a special guest, the Premier of Ontario, was scheduled to speak. That was expected to be about 15-20 minutes. It ended up being ANOTHER 15-20 mins.
Twenty minutes in plenary session years is a lifetime.
A bio break was not an option. We’d have to wrangle and settle everyone again. Plus, we didn’t know exactly when the Premier would be ready, so we couldn’t dismiss people. I had to keep the audience engaged for almost as much time as another keynote.
A response to what I did during that time:
“You’re the best MC I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been at events like these for my entire career.”
How did I earn this praise? Two words: Utility and Inspiration.
When I’m Hosting an event, I prepare by understanding what each presenter, panel, video, or other segment is delivering in terms of content and messaging. I use that to quickly introduce and transition between Agenda items. Then, when possible, I attend and listen to everyone and every thing. This work gives me fresh, in the moment content to use in my role as Host. This kind of utility helps me do my job and helps to make the Agenda content more consumable for attendees in the audience. It’s functional.
Most often, event profs have programmed excellent and relevant content, that, even if very industry specific, is interesting to hear about. Even when not obvious, or eloquently performed, I explore what is meaningful to me about the ideas and info being shared. This kind of experience is personally and professionally satisfying. It’s inspiring.
So, in the unexpected doozy of a “stretch”, my standard protocol to find utility and inspiration in the overall Agenda, fuelled the ideas and content that I shared to keep everyone engaged. Reflecting back on segments from earlier in the day and teasing what was yet to come in the evening and on Day Two made the time a shared experience for all. Not just a stall for time. Did I also bring out some legacy crowd work from being a stand-up comedian? For sure. But, knowing what bits are appropriate for any corporate audience is informed by my approach.
You may not be hosting, or speaking at an event in the near future. But, you can start to embrace the dreaded “stretch” note by approaching any events you attend with Utility and Inspiration in mind.