Monday, December 13, 2010

Pubic Speaking - Watch Your Clock So They Don't Watch Theirs

One of the quickest ways to bomb is to go overtime or try to stuff too much information in too little time. I have done talks where I was a big hero at 30 minutes and a bum at 42 minutes. One time I even got in trouble with the meeting planner. She was sitting in the front row laughing the whole time then afterwards said, "You went too long." OUCH!!

When that incident happened, I was feeling the pressure to fill up the time I had been booked for. That attitude is a mistake because it pays no attention to how the audience is feeling. Now, I counsel the meeting planner to let me be the judge of when to quit. Most open-minded planners will go along with me on this. They understand that I'm not trying to be lazy and quit early. I am trying to give their audience the best presentation they can handle under the circumstances.

If the audience is really great, it sometimes makes you want to go overtime because things are going so well. Don't do it. Leave them wanting more and you will always be welcome back. If you are susceptible to losing track of time, recruit someone or have the meeting planner assign someone to stand in the back of the room and signal you when five minutes (or whatever length of time suits you) is left. One of the worst things you can do is to try to fit all your material in a
shortened time period by speaking faster. The audience won't be able to absorb it anyway and you'll look foolish besides. I regularly cut material without missing a beat when my time gets shortened or the audience is exhausted because of a long day or evening. To do this without becoming flustered takes a little preparation and a few tricks up your sleeve.

The first thing I do to make things easy on myself is to prepare a talk that is five to ten minutes shorter than the allotted time period. Rarely is your time ever lengthened, but it is routinely shortened. Even when it is not shortened it is shortened. If you are supposed to go on at 1:00 p.m., you will very seldom actually start talking until 1:10 p.m. People take time to get seated, then you have a few announcements, and then your introduction, etc., etc., etc. If you have allowed for these delays, you don't have to cut any material at all.

When your time gets cut more than 10 minutes, you must take appropriate pre-planned actions. I rank my material in order of importance to that group. I know. I know. It all should be important, but there is always something that is more important than something else for a given group. If you have studied them enough in your pre-program research, you should have less trouble deciding what material could be cut in case you are asked to shorten your talk. After you
have ranked your material for a particular talk, write down how much time each segment takes so that you'll know how much time you save by cutting a particular chunk of material.

The other supertrick I use when I have a long story to tell is to have a quotation ready that makes the same point as the story. If my time is cut, I simply use the quote instead of the story and save several minutes. Keep a clock on stage with you that you can glance at to keep yourself on track. Or, get a speaker timer that you wear like a pager that vibrates to let you know time is almost up. There are two schools of thought about looking at your watch while on stage. I'll give them to you and you decide which is right. The first school of thought is that you should never look at your watch while on stage because it will cause the audience members to start looking at their watches. The second school of thought is that you should look at your watch to let the audience members know that you are aware of time.

This supposedly allows them to listen to you rather than worry if you are going to go too long.
I don't know which one of these schools is right, so I simply make a statement to the audience sometime during the talk (usually the beginning or end) that I will not go overtime. Then I keep track of time with my hidden timer on stage.

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