Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Long Should You Speak?

This is the first of several guest blog posts by my colleague Howard Miller of Brookdale Community College

A number of years ago I helped to organize a conference. It was kind of a big deal, or at least I thought so. The culmination of the three-day event was a presentation by a true expert in the field, which I wildly anticipated.

Then came the end of the third day. If you've ever organized a conference or even attended one, you know that you can get pretty conferenced-out toward the end. So I was kind of dreading something I had so looked forward to.

That dread quickly changed to excitement when the keynote began. The speaker was brilliant and eloquent. At a certain point in the presentation, I was actually thinking about it as a speech critic and considering it the best speech I’d ever heard. Then it happened. About 30 minutes into a 45 minute presentation. I heard those magic words – “In conclusion…” Not only was this the best presentation I’d ever heard, but I was also going to get out early. What a treat!

Of course, this wouldn't be much of a blog post if that’s how the story ended.

Rather than getting out early, the speaker continued for about 30 more minutes. This was both in excess of the audience’s original expectation, and it was well in excess of the time he implied he’d take when he told us he was concluding. The speech went from one of the best I’d ever heard to one of the worst.

This anecdote illustrates how critical it is for you to consider the time allotted for your presentation.

In Dan’s blog, he talks a lot about audience. Well, there’s one area where you don’t need to analyze the audience too much – time. All audiences think their time is important, and nobody wants to feel like their time is wasted. Thus, it’s your job to contain your presentation within the allotted period.

When you’re asked to deliver a presentation, always ask how long you have. Such knowledge will let you prepare properly, and it’s critical to your ability to deliver what the audience needs. If you’re expected to speak for 15 minutes and you take 20, the audience may become annoyed. If you take 30, they may become downright angry. Not pitchfork angry, but if you don’t get another opportunity at that venue, you’ll know why.

If someone has been kind enough to give you a few minutes to speak, reward them by taking no more of their time. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll increase your chances for a return engagement.

If you have too much to say, edit your work. Never increase your rate so you can get everything in. Rather, focus on what the audience truly needs to understand. When we put hour upon hour into research and study and labor, we can begin to fall in love with our work. It’s important to remember, though, that your audience needs your information, not your every emotion surrounding your work.

If you’re in charge, you might think everything is different. It’s not. Your employees or staff will appreciate that you have respect for their time. And it stands to reason that people will work harder for someone who they respect.

And finally, if you’re an invited speaker, you know that much of the audience may be there to see you. Revel in that if you like. Once you've done so, now remember that your audience, no matter how much they want to hear from you, would rather see their loved ones when they were planning on it. So please, meet the expectations of the audience, and speak only within the allotted period.


It seems I’m running out of time myself. So as Dan would say, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading! If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes’ private and group consulting see Semiosphere Consulting.