Friday, July 6, 2007

Public Speaking Essentials - Timeliness

Lisa over at Speak Schmeak has an interesting post on the topic of sticking to your time when speaking – whatever the situation.

When I am interviewing senior people and a presentation is part of the selection process, I am astounded at how often they blithely run 20 and 30 percent over their time.

For a recent one – selecting the CEO for an NGO – we started by saying, "Imagine you are delivering this presentation on CNN. Unfortunately, the satellite will pass out of coverage in twelve minutes' time, cutting you dead. So you need to be really mindful of the clock. Go."

Only two out of the five candidates finished within the allotted time ...

In this age of the soundbite, it is so important to be able to stick to your time. If you are guesting on any sort of media outlet, they will be ruthless about time: "Rowan, we're running a bit behind on the show, so you've got six minutes before the commercial to give us a deep insight into the plot and characterisation in War & Peace - is that okay with you?" [By the way, the correct answer to that question if you ever want to be asked back on air is, "Sure, no problem."]

For a speech or presentation, this all comes down to anchor points and wordcounting. If you have five points to deliver, distil them down to their bare essence. What does your audience have to absolutely, positively know as a result of your efforts? Those are your anchors. Split each one of them off and work up your verbiage (and your visuals if you are PowerPointing it).

Now comes the wordcount part. You can quickly measure your public speaking wpm by reading out a piece of predetermined word-length and recording it. Check (a) intelligibility and (b) duration. If it's okay on the comprehension front, then simply divide wordcount by time to discover your presentation wpm. It's a good idea to do this three or four times and take an average.

If you then script up your verbiage for your anchor points, you can quickly determine how long it's going to take to deliver. If you are stuck within a fixed schedule, you will almost always need to trim it back; but if you have 25 minutes and 80 text-heavy and data-heavy charts to present, you're going to need to pull out a chainsaw ...

Lisa's post is here

Related Posts:
Horrendous example of time over-run
The key mistakes presenters make


  1. For years paid public speaking was a significant part of how I made my money. I learned two important lessons early.

    1) The question to ask the meeting planner is not "How long do I have?" Instead, it's "When do you need me to be done?" The challenge then was to be done on time so the meeting would work well.

    2) When you have to cut, cut big chunks, don't piddle with individual words. Thus, a Six Tips speech can become Five or Four or Three or Two or even One.

    I once had a gabby VP and late meal service cut my time from 90 minutes to about 10. The speech originally was supposed to be Six things you can do ...

    I gave a quick opening. Listed the six. Said "The most important one, and the one I'll talk about tonight is ..." covered the point and closed.

    That lead to what I guess is point 3. Nobody in the room that night knew that the speech I gave wasn't the speech I planned. If you do it right, they won't know what you leave out.

  2. I get invited back time and again by organisers who just love the fact that I never run over and can flex my talks to fit whatever amount of time they need filled.

    The CNN-Satellite thing really freaks most presenters. I contend that it shouldn't.