Speaking to Time – Learn How to Avoid Overrunning

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Speaking to time – Hands up if you get frustrated by speakers who overrun!

Presenters who have not mastered the art of speaking to time are one of my pet hates, and it seems that I am not alone. Overrunning is one of the most common complaints in both the business and community sectors. Few people appreciate speakers who fail to respect their audience’s time.

The consequences of poor presentation timekeeping

  • Audiences get bored by overlong presentations, and some members may even walk out
  • Overrunning results in a loss of  respect and ultimately to a reduced audience buy-in for your ideas, products or services
  • Speaking too long also eats into following presenter’s time, antagonising fellow speakers and event organisers as a result
  • Likewise, poor timekeeping prolongs meetings unnecessarily, wasting valuable time
  • Furthermore, going over time prevents meaningful Q&A after your presentation

How can you avoid becoming a speaker who runs over?

First, prepare your presentation properly

  • Double check your time slot in advance
    Speaking slot times can and do change, so make sure that you check in with the meeting organiser. By so doing you will ensure that you avoid any nasty surprises and keep in the good books of the event organiser.
  • Always develop your script to fit 80% of your allotted time
    Never aim to fill the entire time slot with speaking! Aiming for 80% increases the likelihood that you will finish on time or even a little under it. (Nobody minds a speaker who concludes a few minutes early!)  Knowing your average speaking speed makes this relatively easy. For example, I speak at between 100 and 120 words a minute when presenting,  so I can calculate roughly how many words I need for a specific time slot.  For me, a 5-minute speech needs around 600 words.
  • Rehearse your speech and get someone to time you
    Fine tune your content by practising it out loud to ensure that you stay within the 80% rule. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice some of your non-essential stories in the service of clarity and brevity.

Second, use an external indicator to help you stay on  time

  • Is there a clock in the room that is visible to the speaker?
    A clock is the most basic indicator, but it relies on you to remember to look at it and to remember when you need to be wrapping up. In the heat of the moment, when you are in full flow, it’s not uncommon to forget about the clock altogether.
  • Is there a countdown timer?
    Countdown clocks provide second by second feedback on how much time you have left. Check in advance if this facility is available and, if so, its location. Of course, you still need to remember to glance at it from time to time, but it is a handy tool and hence will help you stay on track.
  • Is there a timing lights system?
    Some conferences and meetings provide speakers with a clear indication of their remaining time using lights. These usually take the form of either a single red light or a set of coloured traffic lights. I prefer this method to a countdown timer because I find it less distracting but just as useful. Remember to check what time the various lights come on and then change.

Finally, be willing to edit on the fly if your time is running short

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Gavin Meikle – View the original post.


Published On: 16th Nov 2018

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