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Time Management for Speakers

Beginning public speakers often fail to realize the importance of time management. Often, they don’t realize the amount of content they will deliver should be carefully considered to match their allotted speaking time. Most novice speakers think if they have 1 hour they need to develop 2 hours of content in case they have’ extra time’. They forget that the core message they’d like to deliver is more important than covering every possible detail. Unfortunately for those that don’t practice time management in their speeches this leads to less than positive speaking outcomes. Let’s explore effective time management for speakers through the following examples:

Data Dump

The ‘data dump’ is the type of speech were the presenter gives you every conceivable tidbit of information in their speech topic. These sorts of speeches are often accompanied by 100’s of PowerPoint slides filled with vast amounts of information. If the speaker doesn’t spend the time to really work on the fundamental message they intent to deliver – this is a common occurrence. Instead, early in our speech writing process we should condense and focus our message and its call to action.

Every Minute Accounted For

Some speakers also make the timing mistake of accounting for every minute of their speech of their delivery. They forget that a speech without audience involvement is less than optimal. If we don’t leave space in our talk of 15-20% of our time to engage with the audience – we miss out on a vital opportunity to truly connect with them. Instead, we should plan for some time in every speech dedicated to the sole purpose of audience interaction and connection.
Death by PowerPoint

Modern technology is great but it can have a downside for speakers and leaders. PowerPoint, Prezi and Apple Keynote can be powerful tools to augment your speech if used properly. We once worked with a public speaking coaching student who came to us with over 200 slide he intended to deliver in a single 20-minute presentation. In reviewing his speech and PowerPoint it was easy to see he had packed too much information into too short a span of time. His message wasn’t clear in his mind and it certainly wouldn’t be in the mind of the audience. Instead we should focus and condense our message and use technology ONLY in a supporting role.
There are too many public speaking timing challenges to list so instead we will focus on the things you should practice to improve your speaking timing.

Hone Your Message

Take the bird’s-eye view of your message. What is your key takeaway or point. Focus on this critical core message. Are you able to articulate it in a single sentence? Do you have a clear, concise understanding of what you’ll cover in your talk? Do you know what your key takeaway or call to action is? You should have defined all of these things and articulate them directly in your speech.


Brevity is a powerful tool in accurate speech delivery. If you have an hour speech, plan for 40 minutes of content and a solid 10-15 minutes of questions and audience interaction. Keep it short and simple and your audience will love you for it. Brevity can be a secret weapon for time management throughout your speech.


Simplify your message so ALL your audience can connect with it. Many speakers are extremely knowledgeable about a subject and fail prey to wanting to give audiences way too much complex information which takes away from their central point. Keep it simple, short and to the point. Public speakers time management capacities improve when they embrace simplicity.

Practice Your Timing

Practice is a most overlooked skill in public speaking. Beginning speakers fail to realize that practicing is a critical element to public speaking success. It is optimal to practice while recording ourselves in front of a smartphone or webcam. You can be more aware of your timing by practicing with a timer, clock or time app on your smartphone. We can then know how well we are doing with timing our speech.

Leave Space for Question

Who is the most important person in the room at your speeches? If you answer anything other than your audience – you are incorrect. The audience is the most critical element of your speech and your message should connect with them on multiple levels. Acknowledging this highlights the need for you to leave space in your speeches for audience interaction, questions and insights they may share during your speech.

Finish Early

No audience ever has complained about a speaker finishing early or on time. Audience members might be perturbed with us ‘going over’ or extending our time beyond its originally allotted time. If we put ourselves in the audience shoes, we realize finishing early or on time shows we planned our message well and delivered it in a way that respected the time we were given – no more, no less.

Timing is vital for everyone from the seasoned public speaker to the novice one. Each of us as speakers should hone our message, practice brevity, simplicity for maximum impact. When we plan the timing of our speech and practice it, we are more effective speakers. What are some of your public speaking or leadership challenges? Have you ever had an issue timing your speech or presentation? Feel free to leave a question or comment below and we’ll explore it further.

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