What Time Means To Speakers

Time is valuable to both speakers and their audience
Time is valuable to both speakers and their audience
Image Credit: Du Truong

Time is the bane of every speaker. We all know that we’ve been allocated a certain amount of time to deliver our next speech. What this means is that we have to create a speech that will fit into the amount of time that we’ve been given. The challenge that we face is that despite the importance of public speaking sometimes this time will change. Our time may be shortened before we take the stage or events may occur that limit the amount of time that we have. What is the best way for us to deal with the ever changing amount of time that we have to give a speech in?

The Importance Of Time

As speakers we all have a love / hate relationship with time. We all want to have enough time to get our point across to our audience; however, there never seems to be enough time for us to do this. As speakers we must stay on time. Speakers need to understand that if you don’t respect time, you are not respecting your audience. Likewise, you are also not respecting the event organizer or any speakers following you if you don’t do a good job of managing your time. So what can a speaker do to stay on time?

Always Time Your Practice Speech

When you take the stage to deliver your speech, this is not the first time that you’ve given this speech. You have practiced it (many times!) before. If you take the time to time your practice speeches then this is a good way to know if your material is suitable time-wise for each specific occasion. If you think that you can only cover half your material within your allotted time, you will need to rethink the presentation’s structure or content. It is better to do so before the event rather than to find yourself in an awkward situation onstage. You need to realize that that your practice time and event time might not be the same. When you are giving your speech for real, different things including questions, audience laughter and unexpected interruptions can serve to lengthen your live presentation.

Prepare A Handout For Your Audience

Handouts are something that I’ve always struggled with. I don’t want to distract my audience, but giving audience members a document that is not a copy of your slides is generally considered to be a good idea. The handout should contain the necessary information about your subject that will allow you to focus on what is most important during the presentation. With a handout you will not feel compelled to cover every possible point. The end result is that not only will this make for a better presentation, it might also make for a shorter one as well. In the case that your speaking time is cut, you can simply state that although you will not be addressing a given topic, it is covered in your handout.

Always Arrive Early

So this one should be obvious to every speaker. Since we know just how valuable time is, we need to always arrive early. We need to make sure the room where we will be speaking is set up properly and that all of our necessary equipment is working. Realize that having technical difficulties just before you start a presentation is not only stressful – it can also cut into your allotted time.

Make Sure That You Reconfirm Your Speaking Time

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told when I’ll be stepping on the stage only to find that things have changed. Before you step onto the stage, it is always a good idea to reconfirm your speaking time with your host or event planner. Oh, and this is also a polite thing to do also. This person is the one who booked you, after all, and you want to make sure your appearance meets their expectations.

Things Change – Plan What Material You Can Cut

Let’s face it – you don’t run the world. What this means is that logistics are not always within your control and your speaking time might be unexpectedly reduced. It is entirely possible that you will be told 20 minutes before your scheduled one hour presentation begins that you must cut it by one third or even half. If this happened, then you must adjust quickly and smoothly. One way to prepare for this happening is to divide your presentation into blocks, then rehearse and time each one. By doing this it will give you the confidence to change or remove blocks on the fly and adapt to the situation on the day of your presentation.

Be Sure To Monitor Your Available Time

You can’t finish on time if you don’t know where you are at. During your presentation you need to know where you should be in your presentation at a few key points, especially halfway. If you reach the halfway point and are behind on time, you need to start thinking about what content you will cut. This will be less problematic if you have prepared by already knowing what can be cut easily and have distributed a handout to the audience.

We don’t control our speaking environment. The room where you speak might not have a clock or at least clock that is easily visible. To deal with this possibility you should bring a timing device of your own choice. You can use a watch, although it is not elegant to check your watch on a regular basis while speaking. If you have a watch, then place the watch on a lectern or table, where you can check it more discreetly.

Be Sure To Allow Time For Questions

Before you give your next speech, you are going to have to make a decision about questions. Do you want your audience members to ask questions at any point during the presentation? This is good for demonstrating your confidence, being responsive and building rapport with the audience. However, if you are not careful it can throw off your timing. If you choose to take this approach, be sure to build in some buffer time to your speech. If you prefer taking questions at the end, make sure that you stop your prepared presentation just before the conclusion to take questions. Then, while there is still time left, stop taking questions from your audience and deliver your speech conclusion so you finish on a strong note.

What All Of This Means For You

Time is one of a speaker’s most powerful tools and it is the one thing that can trip them up. We need to understand how much time we will be given to deliver our next speech and then we need to make sure that we use it in the most efficient way so that we can share the benefits of public speaking. We don’t control how things turn out and there is always the possibility that the amount of time that we have been given will be reduced before we ever take the stage. We need to realize that this can happen and make sure that we prepare for it.

Speakers need to respect the time that they have been given because doing so shows respect for their audience. In order to make sure that we know how long our speech is going to take we should time how long our speech takes when we are practicing it. If we prepare a handout for our audience then if we have to skip a part of our speech, they will still get the information. When we are giving a speech we need to always arrive early and we need to reconfirm what time we’ll be speaking at with the host. Because we realize that our time may be shortened, we need to plan what part of our speech can be cut. While you are speaking make sure that you monitor your available time. Make sure that if you are going to allow your audience to ask questions that you budget time for it.

The most important thing about time that speakers have to realize is that it is flexible. It can grow and shrink based on events that are out of our control. This means that we need to be able to craft speeches that can be adjusted on the fly to the amount of time that we will be allocated. If we can master our time, then we can always deliver a superb speech and leave our audience wanting more.

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

Question For You: What should you do if the time that you are allocated is too short for you to give any version of your speech in?

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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

Creating a good speech is a challenging task for any speaker to do. However, what does it really mean to create a good speech? First we have to come up with an idea that we think will appeal to our audience. Next we have to sit down and actually go through the effort of creating that speech. This is where things can get tricky. The process of creating a speech means that we have to do some writing and I think that we all may view this task differently. However, it turns out that how good of a writer we are may determine how good of a speech we can give. This means that we’d all like to find ways that we could become a better writer.