It’s the middle of the summer as I write and so many people are on vacation.
When I’m on vacation, I often go days without wearing a watch. It’s nice not to be guided by the clock, at least for a short while each year. What time is it? I don’t know: time for a swim; time to eat; time for a beer.
For a speaker, on the other hand, losing track of time is a major faux-pas, especially if it results in running over time. Even worse is the speaker who feels no compunction about speaking for 5, 10 or even 15 minutes beyond his allotted time.
In almost every case, running over time is highly disrespectful of one’s audience. If the speaker is one of several on the agenda, it is also disrespectful of the other speakers and the event organizers who will be forced to adjust the schedule. And rarely is a speaker who drones on remembered kindly by the audience.
So here’s an idea from an old TV game show for your next presentation: Beat the Clock!
The premise behind the show was simple: contestants were given a series of challenges that they had to complete in less than the time allotted. If they succeeded, they beat the clock and won a prize.
The next time you have a presentation, see if you can beat the clock. Speak for less than your allotted time.
I realize that this might sound counterintuitive to many people, but I have yet to see an audience complain when a speaker finishes a little early. The reaction is usually one of pleasant surprise and appreciation.
Let’s be clear, though, about what I am suggesting. You should not race through your material at breakneck speed; nor should you speak for much less than your allotted time, thus leaving a gap to fill. Rather, you should aim to have your presentation, including questions and answers, completed a few minutes before your time is up. For example, do you have an hour? Aim to have everything wrapped up in 55 minutes.
Of course, the less time you have to begin with, the more difficult the exercise is. Five minutes is only 8% of a one hour presentation, but it is 33% of a 15-minute presentation. You probably don’t want to leave that much time on the table.
Nevertheless, aim to finish with a few minutes to spare or, at the latest, when your time is up. You might not win any prizes, but you will win the the respect and appreciation of your audience, your fellow speakers and those who organized the event.