While creating and delivering powerful introductions and conclusions is vital to the success of your speech, and all manner of little tricks and skills can greatly improve how you look, sound and feel on stage, it’s important that you don’t forget about some of the basics that your audience cares about.
For instance, dinner.
Or the movie they’re going to see tonight.
Or the next speaker on the program. You know, the one they actually came to hear…
It Comes Down to Timing
Just like many things in life, success with a speech will often come down to timing.
You see, if you’re a competent speaker (i.e. you pay attention to what your audience wants and needs to hear, and you give it to them with some personality,) you’re 90% of the way to walking off the stage to a standing ovation.
But, if you over-stay your welcome, you’ve lost them.
And if you bolt off the stage five minutes early because you blew through your presentation at Mach 4, you’ve also lost them.
It’s not just a matter of giving them what they want, it’s also a matter of serving it up in an appealing and appropriate way.
The Five-Hour Four-Star Dinner
Picture yourself eating dinner at a fancy-shmancy 4-star restaurant with a $60-per-plate minimum. No matter how fantastic the food is, would you enjoy it as much if the waiter brought you everything at once?
Shrimp cocktail, soup, salad, steak and cheesecake, all at the same time?
It’s also not fun to sit through a five-hour dinner because they’re giving you an hour between courses.
If you’re shelling out that kind of money, you’re automatically expecting the experience to be timed right.
Your speech is no different.
Everyone in your audience is spending the most valuable thing they have, their time, not to mention any money they may have plunked down if you’re speaking at a paid event.
In exchange, they’re automatically expecting not just stellar content, but excellent timing as well.
Don’t dissappoint them.
How Do You Do It?
Timing is a touchy thing because it’s fluid. A lot of factors can go into making sure your speech hits the right time span, and only some of them are in your control.
So, the first and foremost thing you can do is take care of those things that ARE in your control:
Write It Well - By writing the speech in such a way that you’re sure you can hit all of your key points with adequate emphasis, not short-changing anyone, and still keep it loose and engaging, all while keeping within your allotted time, you take away that scary rush that turns off an audience like a cold water firehose.
Practice - Once you’ve created a stellar speech that you know hits your points perfectly, you need to pull out the old stopwatch, stand in front of the mirror, and give it a go. Then again. Then again! Practice until you’re sure the timing isn’t going to be a problem. Not that you want to memorize to the point that you’re a robot on stage, but just to the point that you’re not going to feel the need to add five minutes of ad-libbed fluff to one section, then scrap the next one to make up for it.
Relax - When you’ve finally gotten to the point of getting up on stage, if you’re confident that the speech is written well and you’re as prepared as you can be, just relax. Nothing screws up your timing worse than a bad case of nerves. A relaxed speaker puts the audience at ease. A relaxed audience puts the speaker at ease. See how that works?
What’s Not In Your Control
You can’t control how well the other speakers on the program are at controlling THEIR timing. If one or more speakers before you has gone overtime and you’re speaking right before lunch, you may be asked to cut your speech short.
Sucks to be you.
But you know what? It’s your audience that matters. And you’re never going to successfully compete with a grumbling stomach.
So do what you have to do graciously and make sure everyone knows how to get a hold of you for more details later on.
Similarly, if other speakers have left you more time than you expected and you need to stretch things out a bit, don’t get nervous. This is a great opportunity to add back in a few interesting tidbits you had to nix in the writing phase, or maybe a personal anecdote or two.
Even better, if a Q&A is included in your timespan, give the extra time to your audience! They’ll love you for it!
You also can’t account for every little technical glitch you may run into.
If the projector blinks the blue screen of death in-between slides 17 and 18, make a joke, move seamlessly into slide 18′s content and do your best to stay on track while someone handles the snafu for you (hopefully!)
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this:
To achieve maximum effect, a speech needs to be timed right: long enough to satisfy your audience’s reasons for listening, but short enough to satisfy your audience’s interest in everything else in their life.
If you can accomplish that, they’ll invite you back.
What are your secrets for nailing the timing of your speeches? Any tips you can share in the comments?