How long you need to prepare a presentation (and why that's a diversity issue)

One hour of preparation per minute of presentation. That’s the rule of thumb Russell gives for how long it takes to prepare a new, formal presentation. (That’s divided into things like working out a rough outline of what you want to say, preparing your slides and rehearsing.) I find it useful, for two reasons. One: it works. Two: time is a feminist issue.

Sure, there’s more and more understanding on the UK tech scene that who speaks and who doesn’t is a diversity issue. Not having man-panels is great. But if we don’t diversify who is speaking, we just hear the same voices and perspectives. Not much changes.

One of the things organisations, leaders and team members can do to make the industry more diverse is to encourage new people to give presentations, and give them the time they need to prepare.

 …who has the time to do that is political

(Apologies for slightly essentialising language. No apologies for drawing on personal experience.)

A lot of people feel uncomfortable with the power dynamics in giving presentations. Different people deal with this in different ways. I was at a Lady Leshurr gig the other week where she subverted that power imbalance by inviting audience members up on stage to perform alongside her. Nice.

That said, when women work collaboratively in groups (see: agile software teams), their contributions are often ignored or undervalued. Presentations are a way of claiming ownership of work in public, in front of peers. That’s one of the reasons that it’s important for women and other minorities in the tech sector to do them.

Knowing how long presentations take to prepare makes doing them easier.

Who doesn’t have time at work?

We’re all busy, but some are more busy than others. Who has the time, and who doesn’t, to spend 20 hours preparing a 20 minute presentation during office hours? This is, at least in part, a political question.

We know that people who are in the minority take on a disproportionate amount of the emotional labour in offices. Men reap the benefits of women’s emotional labour. What does that look like? Women and other minorities in tech seem busier than those who focus more intently on themselves and their own careers at the expense of the collective (and the product). And it’s not as if they can simply refuse and focus on themselves: emotional labour in the office is not “optional” for women.

Who do you think is going to say that she doesn’t have time to do a presentation?

Who doesn’t have time at home?

It’s not reasonable, or fair, to expect people to prepare presentations in their spare time. That’s not just about work-life balance. That sort of set-up gives an unfair professional advantage to people who do not carry the main burden of housework. Or of looking after children and parents. (I don’t really need to spell that one out, do I?)

How organisations can help

Being able to gauge, accurately, how long it will take to prepare a presentation, makes it easier get a more diverse group of people speaking. More voices heard. A better chance of improving the status quo.

If you’re a manager, encourage the people who work in your organisation to get credit for their work. Give them the time they need to prepare presentations during regular office hours. Make raising industry profile part of people’s objectives - but be realistic and supportive about how much time it takes to do that well. And how do you calculate how long that takes? One hour per minute of presentation. At least.

@fitzsimple - 15 March 2017