Timing your speech

December 13, 2011

A priest was known to give long sermons. He once said to one of his friends, “I don’t mind when people constantly look at their wrist watches while I speak but I do mind when they shake them up to check if the watches are still working.”

One of the challenges of public speaking is to deliver an effective speech within the stipulated time. It is not always easy. Even the best of the speakers tend to go beyond their allotted time, and lose their audience after a while. How does one keep his speech or presentation short and finish on time? I would propose the following approach:

  • Most of the speakers do have a structure but not all of them plan on how much time they are going to spend on each point. As a result, they end up spending more time on some points and end up rushing through the rest. Having an outline helps. It provides a structure to the speech. But it is always useful to prepare and be conscious of the time each point is going to take. Timing for the beginning part, the middle part and the closing part needs to be planned. We can’t afford not to cover any of these.
  • As we prepare, we need to ask ourselves, can we drop some of the points we have prepared. We need to sacrifice a few points, in order to be focused and finish on time. The Less is more concept of effective communication must never be forgotten.
  • We have to be conscious of time while we deliver the speech. Sometimes due to a delayed start or some unforeseen situation, we end up having less time to deliver the speech than was planned. Therefore, the speaker should be prepared to make some last minute or during the speech adjustments in shortening the speech.

I would close by reminding what I wrote in an earlier post on public speaking – Why should the audience listen to you? (January 2011). A good speaker is the one who stops when the audience still wants to listen to him/her.