5 Top Tips on effective speaking and timings

When you are speaking, it is important to avoid overstaying your welcome by speaking too long or dominating the conversation. We have all experienced conversations where the other person constantly talks; he or she dominates any conversation, takes over a meeting or speaks too long in a presentation or conference. His speech is not effective. This damages a personal brand or the company you are representing. However, are you aware that you could be speaking for too long or that your speech is not effective?

When will he finish

Earlier this week I attended a half day conference. There were three excellent speakers, as well as the host. The next speaker was due to go on and he announced that there would be a 2 minute break. We returned after our break and he announced that he didn’t have a powerpoint but that he’d taken notes of what other speakers had said. For the next hour he shared us his take on the world, which included a variety of sweeping statements; sexist jokes and contradicting arguments. When people asked questions, he focused the conversation back onto him, without answering. The conference hugely overran, with the last speaker and the host having to hurry through their prepared speeches. I am still angry that an hour of my time was wasted by this individual and I consider the company he was representing in a different light.

The question is, could this have been avoided? Do we recognise that we have made exactly the same mistake? In the heat of the moment, it is easy to lose track of time or to become impassioned about what you are saying. But it is important to be aware of your audience, what you are aiming to say and your brand.

I have also experienced having my carefully prepared speeches cut because other people have seriously overrun – much to my disappointment and that of the audience. I often think the old style Music Hall where a hook came out from the stage wings and pulled a performer who had overstayed his welcome from the stage was a great one. The old style Labour Party conferences also included red warning lights, buzzers and finally the microphone being switched off, to manage over enthusiastic speakers!

 So here are my five top tips to ensure you don’t outstay your welcome when you speak.

  • Plan what you are going to say. Some people use notes, I use images on a powerpoint presentation to remind me where I am in a presentation or public speaking engagement. If it is a meeting, write down an agenda and three points you MUST say and focus on those, rather than sharing your life story!
  • Timings: find out how long you have to speak and plan a speech that is at least 5 minutes SHORTER; then this builds in time for questions and if you elaborate on any topic. I also time each section of my speech and will know if I’m ‘late’ for the next section by looking at the time.
  • Watching the time: if it is possible to be able to see a clock that’s great – and be aware of the time. Otherwise, have a clock on the platform so you can see it, or ask an assistant to wave at you when it is 10 minutes to go.
  • Be aware of your audience: most audiences are engaged, although some people use devices and screens when you talk now. In fairness they could be taking notes. But be aware of what they are doing. If they become distracted, disengaged, or, dare I say it, falling asleep, you need to move on to the next point quickly! If they are looking bored, it could be the content and that you have overstayed your welcome!
  • Chatting because you are nervous: we often see people being interviewed on TV, who won’t stop speaking! And it is perfectly normal to feel nervous. With adrenaline pumping round your body it is easy to chatter on and not be focused. Before you speak or present, develop a relaxation routine and become focused on your message. The Executive Voice courses feature techniques for focusing and relaxing before speaking. Contact us for more information.

If you use these tips when you are preparing your next speech, you will be more effective with your message and engage more readily with your audience. Do you have any tips for this? Do you have experience of speaking too long or being in the audience with a speaker who outstays his welcome? Do comment below.


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About the author

Susan Heaton Wright is a former opera singer who works with successful individuals and teams to make an impact with their voices and physical presence. Using her experience in using the voice and performing on stage, she works with people to improve their performances in a range of business situations; from meeting skills and on the telephone, to public speaking, presentations and appearing on the media.

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