How many times have you said, “They want me to speak for an hour?”
Here’s a secret: There may be an hour on the schedule, but if you’re a smart speaker, you won’t fill the allotted time.
The speaker who allows extra time gets seven secret advantages, such as:
1. A happier audience: No one really wants the speaker to speak the full amount of time. No one. A speaker who shows not just a healthy respect for time limits, but errs on the less-is-more side, will get more praise, applause and love from listeners. Leave them wanting more.
2. A more engaged audience: Most audiences come to talks wanting to participate in some way, and I don’t just mean by applauding. People arrive with questions, things to add to the discussion, or points they want to argue. When you leave extra time, you let them contribute and feel satisfaction from doing so.
3. Less stress in the room: You can feel the stress in the room when speakers skirt too close to closing time. There’s the person in front who mouths “five minutes!” to the people in back who check their watches and cell phones.
Some of that stress comes from people who realize you won’t answer their questions, and some from people who need to be somewhere once you’re done. All of them hope you’ll conclude before the clock or the moderator tells you to do so.
4. More time to show off your deep knowledge: If you have a lot to say, save some of it for the Q&A. Instead of front-loading your talk with all your data and knowledge, open things up for questions and show your smarts in the answers. This is a great tactic to make sure you don’t overwhelm the audience with data, and to look confident in the Q&A.
5. Ease in handling the unexpected: The speaker who doesn’t plan a wall-to-wall approach will benefit when anything unexpected hits the fan, from a late moderator to a crisis that requires you to shorten your remarks on the fly.
I coached speakers at a major conference this year where a fire alarm and evacuation required several speakers to shave their presentation times dramatically so we could keep the program on time. If you allow some air in your remarks, you’ll have less last-minute angst in a situation like that.
6. A chance for better, more dramatic pacing: If you don’t jam every fact and story you know in your talk, you can stretch out your stories and use dramatic pauses and a varied pace. Speakers who put too much content into a short time have only one choice: talk fast and keep going.
7. Better comprehension from the audience: The speedy speaker loses out because, when you present, audiences need you to speak slower than the way you speak in conversation.
If you’re intent on filling your time, you may say all the things you want to say, but your audience might catch less of your overall message. Is that really a win? I think not.