How 'the 15 percent rule' will improve your speeches
In speeches and media interviews, figuring you'll fill 85 percent of the allotted time will keep you from overstaying your welcome and give you wiggle room to be extemporaneous.
Do you know when to stop talking?
It's said that former President Bill Clinton—famous for speaking well past
his assigned time slot, earlier in his career—has reined himself in with
what I call the "15 percent rule." The rule: You plan to fill 85 percent of
the time allotted.
That leaves 15 percent of your time as a cushion to ensure you don't exceed
the limit. But the benefits go further, and Clinton uses it as time to make
an aside or engage in extemporaneous back-and-forth with the audience,
based on where he feels the audience is emotionally.
[RELATED: What does it take to write authentic speeches in the age of Trump?Find out at the 2017 Speechwriters Conference.]
This rule also works when you are the subject of a media interview. You'll
often hear radio interviewers signal, "We just have 20 seconds left..." to
prompt the interviewee to be brief. Why not make better use of your time by
stopping short of what you see as complete?
When I coach speakers or train experts in media interview skills, I
sometimes ask them to complete a questionnaire in advance. "I talk too
long," is among the most common self-assessment they make. To my mind, that
reads as, "I'm unwilling to take the time to plan and make choices about
the content I'm going to present, based on the needs of the audience or the
I always recommend using the 15 percent rule to deliver better media
interviews and speeches. The old vaudeville rule, "Leave them wanting
more," says it best.
Denise Graveline is a Washington, D.C.-based speaker coach who has
coached more than 200 speakers for TEDMED or TEDx talks.
A version of this article first appeared on her blog,