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.

Overcoming fear in public speaking:

February 28, 2011


Does the thought of walking onto stage leave you gasping for breath? Do your knees knock to the rhythm of a pounding heart when you have to address an audience? Or do you wish those waiting for you to speak would simply vanish into thin air?

Don’t worry, if the answer is yes. You are not the only one. Most of the well-known public speakers have been through this phobia and conquered it through practice and perseverance.  You can do it as well.  I would propose a few ideas:

  • Don’t expect too much from the audience. People perceive things differently. They will have different reactions always.  No one’s speech is appreciated by all. Your own expectations are the cause of anxiety. So, better be realistic.
  • Work on your self-esteem. Self-esteem and success in public speaking are directly linked. Repeatedly tell yourself, that you are the best person to deliver the speech, whether you volunteered for it or you were asked to do it.
  • You get nervous when you try to deliver too much in the allotted time. Be focused and think of two or three key points that you think you are best positioned to make. Then go ahead and just deliver them.  You may revisit the previous post: why should the audience listen to you?
  • Don’t give up. The phobia of public speaking can be overcome only by speaking and speaking consistently. With each effort, one gets better and learns something new.  Give yourself a target of at least ten events. If you don’t give up in between, I can assure you that you would have overcome your initial phobia.
  • Finally, let’s remember that public speaking is not limited to the stage but extends to the arenas of any social gathering, be it a classroom discussion, a party, an official meeting, an inter-college debate or a university interview.  Just go for each opportunity that comes your way.

Public Speaking

November 29, 2008

Public speaking is an important communication skill. The thought of speaking in public gives shivers to many. However, we need not worry. Most of the well-known public speakers have been through this phobia and conquered it. Like any skill, public speaking can be mastered with a consistent effort. The essential thing is to follow the basics of communication.


The 4 W’s and 1 H of Public Speaking

WHO is this speech for?

Gather information about your audience. Who will be present to hear your speech, their socio-economic profile, interests etc. It is critical to find out their perceptions on the issue/topic you are going to speak on. This helps in deciding the contents of the speech.


WHAT am I going to tell the audience?

Keeping in mind the profile/interest/perceptions of the audience, you can decide the content of the speech. It is important to do the ground work properly, gather latest information on the subject, check your facts with the right sources, brainstorm for ideas that would appeal to your audience and then organize your contents. It is important to remember that communciaotn is art of simplification. So, present the technical facts in as simple a way as possible unless the audience includes all technical people.

It is also important not to keep too many ideas. If we try to include every thing, the main message is lost. Audience can never absorb/remember all the ideas. So, key is to prioritize and be focused


WHAT is the occasion/event where you are to speak?

A good sense of occasion is critical. The historical significance, if captured in an interesting way makes your speech different. In addition to knowing the audience, it is also equally important to know about the organizers. What is the event they have invited you to speak you in. Who are other speakers, if any and what are their topics. What is the agenda and what is your turn to speak? Nothing can be more boring for the audience to listen to different speakers on the same topic. It is useful to know the arrangements in the venue like the availability of audio-visual aids, public address system etc. on the venue.


HOW long is the speech expected to be?

Sense of timing is the key. Find out from the organizer about the time that is available for your speech. It is never a good idea to overshoot your time, and it is very embarrassing for someone to remind you to cut-it-short while you are speaking. Practice your speech and see if you can finish it in the allotted time. It is also important to be flexible and make last minute changes in your speech to adjust to the time available particularly if other spears have overshot their time.


… you are now ready to finalize your speech, but hang on. Do the last filter. Ask yourself.


WHY should the audience listen to me?

Is there something new/different/interesting in my speech that will catch the attention of the audience and they will remember me for. No speech should be finalized without this final filter.  A bit of humour, an anecdote, a relevant example, a good beginning and a good end are the elements that are essential.


…Now you have the speech ready. The next, and most critical step is to practice public speaking. More follows.