Obey the Time Limit

One common mistake that many novice and some “expert” speakers make is to ignore the time limit. Most offenders only go over by minute or two where others wait until they’re practically booed off the stage to finish up.

In general, this is very poor practice and if you’re being paid to speak or even speaking for free for a non-profit, it unlikely that you’ll be invited to speak for them again. If you’re giving a presentation at work, your co-workers may feel become annoyed at you. Think about when you’ve been in the audience and the presenter went way over time. It’s never viewed positively.

So why do people tend to go over the time limit instead of under? I believe it’s because it’s easier to add to a speech than it is to take away from it. Many speakers feel the need to cram as much as possible into their speeches to provide maximum value to the audience.

I used to be a chronic offender, especially when I first started out. When I created speeches, I’d practice over and over, each time adding more stories/ideas/quotes to clarify the main points of my speech. By the time I gave my speech, it would sometime be 25% longer than I originally planned.

Now what I do is create a one page summary of the key points to my speech as part of my preparation process (if the speech is longer than 30 minutes, I may use more pages or possibly a work book). I use this as a handout either at the end of my speech or during the Q&A part.

By creating this summary, I feel less pressure to cover every minute detail related to my topic during my talk. Instead, I put it on my handout. By the way, the handout isn’t a substitute for the speech – it’s more of a substitute for notes taken by audience members during a speech. The handout is usually in the form of an outline where major points may be in a larger font and bold and details may be indented or in a smaller font.  The shorter the speech, the larger the font size of the items on my handout that I’ll talk about.

I think a great example of this is a speech that Tony Robbins did at the 2006 TED Conference where he talked about “The Six Human Needs” in a 16 minute speech. I’m familiar with this topic as Tony covers it in his Personal Power audio program – it’s on two CDs and is about 90 minutes long. Great speakers are good at this, they have the ability to take a full day program and cram it into a half-day workshop or 60 minute keynote.

So the next time you give a speech, make sure that you obey the time limit. If you can, have someone in the audience keep track of the time for you and give you visual clues. This will help you become a better speaker and will get you more respect from your audience.

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