I finally finished “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s legendary book about capitalism, communism and objectivism. Her editor asked her to cut 200 pages from the book, but Rand renegotiated her royalties so she could print her manuscript as she originally intended.
Personally, I think Rand could have cut 200 pages quite easily. The speech at the end of the book alone would take three hours to read aloud, according to an Atlas Shrugged FAQ.
I can barely sit through the three-hour version of “The Lord of the Rings,” much less read or listen to a three-hour speech.
Modern speaking tends to go no longer than 45-60 minutes at a time, but it is still important to edit. Too many speakers fall in love with their words and phrases, insist they must cover every detail of their subject, or simply don’t understand how to get to the bottom line before their audience wants to escape.
Here are a few signs you should edit your speech:
1. Your speech has more than one overall point.
If your speech is about saving the environment and supporting the health care program, you could use both ideas as supporting points in a speech about political philosophy. But, then the one overall point is political philosophy.
2. You present points as sound bites instead of stories.
When you tell me what you want without showing me why you want it, you waste your breath and my time.
3. You present more than one point every four to six minutes.
In a 60-minute speech, have one overall point and no more than one supporting point for every 10-minute period. Your audience can only take in so much information at one time.
4. You don’t let your audience laugh.
If you don’t allow your audience to go ahead and laugh every two or three minutes, you need to find the humor in your speech. If you don’t, your listeners will turn into uninterested watchers, cartoon scribblers, or Blackberry escapees.
5. You run out of time before you reach your conclusion.
Hopefully you realize this in practice, not in front of a live, paying audience.
As professionals, we need to constantly edit our work. We learn something new every time we deliver a speech, and we must continue to edit our speeches to keep them fresh. Sharpen your editing blade to keep you flexible on the fly.
Take a speech you currently give, or are about to give, and cut out 20 percent. Look for unnecessary set-up phrases, dialogue cues, and passive sentences. Consider the strength of each story and bit of humor.
Cut out bunny trails—parts of your speech that don’t directly correlate with the point of your talk. If you force yourself to cut 20 percent of your speech, you will have to be creative and concise.
You will be amazed at the time you will create that you can fill with humor, pauses and audience interaction.
Use these editing tools to make your life a little easier:
1. Word count: Almost every word processing program has a word count option to help you keep track of the length of your speech.
2. Save as: Always save your new, edited speech as a separate document. There’s no use throwing out words you may need later.
3. Voice recognition software: Don’t like to write things down? Read your speech into your computer’s microphone, and let the VRS type it for you. I’ve heard good things about Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
4. Virtual assistant or transcriptionist: Hire a virtual assistant or someone to transcribe your recording into a manuscript. Use your spouse or children at your own risk.
5. Speech coach: Hire a speech coach to cut down your speech for you. Speech coaches aren’t married to your words like you are, and will show no mercy in paring your speech down to the essentials. After the speech is in its most basic form, the speech coach will help you build it back up into a trim but powerful piece.
Rich Hopkins is a speaker, author and communications coach. He blogs at Speak & Deliver, where a version of this article originally ran.