Time, Time, Your Next Speech Is All About Time

You only have a limited amount of time to give your next speech
You only have a limited amount of time to give your next speech
Image Credit: Alex The Shutter

As we are putting together our next speech, we may get caught up in the moment and the importance of public speaking. We have so many great things that we want to share with our audience that we we keep adding more and more content to our speech in order to make sure that we share all of it with them. This, of course, brings up a significant problem for every speaker. We have only been allocated so much time in which to give our speech. We need to make sure that we don’t run over the time that we’ve been given. What’s a speaker to do?

The Problem With Speaking Time

A little while ago I had been asked to give a 30 minute speech. This was an important speech to a group of university professors. The person who had set up the event was very clear to me – don’t run over. Realizing that I had limited time, I carefully created a slide deck with 30 slides assuming that on average I’d end up taking about 2 minutes per slide. As we all do, I spent time before the speech practicing it in order to get better at giving it and to make sure that it fit into the allocated time. Initially it was too long, but I made some cuts and got it down to just about exactly 30 minutes. My big day finally came and much to my horror the person introducing me spoke slowly and said a lot. By the time that I took the stage 5 minutes had gone by. Now I only had 25 minutes in which to give my 30 minute speech. I compensated by speeding things up on some of my slides and ended up finishing just as my host was standing up to bring things to a close. Close call!

As speakers we need to realize that no matter how important we think that our speech is, we’ll always have a limited amount of time in which to deliver it. We need to remember that keeping our speech within the time that we have been allocated is simply a courtesy to both other speakers and our audience. If that is not enough of a motivator for you, then you need to realize that if you don’t stay within your allocated time, then you probably will never be asked back to speak again.

So how do we make sure that a speech that we’ve created will fit into the time that we’ve been allocated to give it? If you are like most of us, after you have determined what you want to say in a speech, you will then take the time to read it out loud to yourself while timing how long that takes. If you discover that your speech is taking up more time than you have been given, you’ve got one choice – start trimming your content. This is not an easy process. One of the biggest challenges that speakers face is that it can be very difficult to try to determine just exactly how much of your existing speech your should trim. This is made even more difficult if you are making big changes. Just to make things a bit more difficult we don’t always have a chance to practice reading our speech out loud against a clock because of where we may be located: at work, in a library, in car, etc.

Turns Out That It’s All About Syllables

So I’ve got some good news for you. It turns out that there is an easy and quick (and silent!) way that you can use to determine how long will take to read you speech. What you may not know is that how long your speech will take will depend more on the number of syllables that it contains instead of the number of words that the speech contains. It turns out that there is not a lot of correlation between the number of syllables in a speech and the number of words in a speech. Keep in mind that words can range from monosyllables (“I”, “you”, “Iit”, etc.) to multsyllable (“polymorphic”). This does pose a bit of a challenge for a speaker: the programs that we normally use, like Microsoft Word, only tell us how many words our speech contains and not how many syllables.

The good news is that that internet thing can provide us with a number of different tools that if we submit our written speech to them, will go ahead and count the number of syllables in the speech. One of the more popular ones is called www.HowManySyllables.com. In order to get the most value out of one of these types of sites, you need to start off by taking the time to read your speech. When you reach the allocated time for the speech, even if you have not reached the end of the speech, you need to create a written copy of your speech that just contains the words that you just read. Send this file to the syllable counter software. The number of syllables that the program reports as being in the document that you sent to it will be the number of syllables that you are going to want to make up your entire speech.

Once you completed this task, you are going to want to take your entire speech and go ahead and submit it to the syllable counting software. What you’ll want to do is to compare the number of syllables in your complete speech to the number of syllables that are in portion of the speech that filled your available time. There will be two possible outcomes. If you have fewer syllables in your full speech than were in your sample speech, you will now have a chance to extend some of your pauses or perhaps add additional content.

If it turns out that your speech contains more syllables than were in the sample speech that you submitted to the syllable counter, then you are going to have to make changes to your speech. The good news here is that it turns out that you may not have to be ruthless when you make your cuts to your speech. Instead, you can take a look at the words that you are currently using in your speech. Look for words that have multiple syllables and replace them with words that have fewer syllables. As a final step in this process, you will want to take the speech that you have created that has fewer syllables in it than your sample speech and practice saying it out loud using a clock. It never hurts to double check!

What All Of This Means For You

As speakers we spend a great deal of our time as we prepare for our next speech trying to make sure that our speech contains all of the information that we want to use to share the benefits of public speaking with our audience. However, it can be all too easy to forget that we don’t have unlimited time for our speech. We’ve been allocated a specific amount of time and we are expected to stay within that time period. What this means is that we need to find a way to measure the speech that we create and make sure that it will end up fitting into the time that we have. This is not an easy thing to do.

As a speaker I have been placed into situations where although I had been told how much time I had been allocated, it ended up being even shorter than that. I had to adjust my speech to make it fit and that was not easy to do. Speakers need to understand that the reason that they have to make their speech fit into the time that they have been allocated is because it a courtesy to both your audience and any other speakers. Most speakers will practice reading their speeches out loud in order to see if they are too long or too short. However, this is not always possible to do. A better way to go about making this determination is to count the number of syllables in the speech. This can be done using online syllable counting programs. Read a speech until you reach your time limit and then submit the words that you said to a syllable counter. The number that you get back will tell you how many syllables your speech can contain. Instead of having to trim a speech that has too many syllables, you can simply reduce the number of syllables that some of the words in the speech use in order to reduce your time.

What we have to say is important. However, just like everyone else we have to be sensitive about the amount of time that we have available to communicate our message to our audience. Knowing how long our speech is going to take is the key to making sure that we are going to be able to fit into the time that has been allocated to us. It turns out that timing how long it takes us to say a certain number of words is not a good way to measure the required time. A better way to measure the number of syllables in our speech. Once we know how many syllables we have time for, we can shape our speech to meet both our time and audience requirements.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that your speech can have too many “short” words in it?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As speakers we understand the importance of public speaking and so we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about what we want to say in our next speech. We’ll worry about what words to use, how we should stand when we are on stage, and the importance of making good eye contact with our audience. However, it turns out that there is something even more important than this that we should be spending our time thinking about. We should really be spending our time thinking about our audience. Just exactly who are they? Perhaps even more importantly, where did they come from? I think that we can easily answer this question when our audience is a local audience, but what are the correct answers when we are dealing with a global audience?