What to Do When Speakers Talk Too Long

One thing event organizers dread is the speaker who talks too long. This makes it impossible to maintain the planned schedule and annoys practically everyone.

Speakers should always be very careful to make sure that this doesn't happen. First of all find out how much speaking time you really have. This is not the same as the slot time because you might need to allow a few minutes for introductions at the beginning and questions at the end. When the program says that you start at 10:00 and the next speaker is at 10:30 this does not mean that you have 30 minutes to talk. But always check with the organizers because some give the slot time and some give the actual time. It's good practice to double check with the moderator when you arrive at the venue.

Once you know how much time is allowed the only way to be sure that you can respect this timing is to try several timed practice runs before the event. If you see that you are consistently over the time budget start to simplify the talk until you are consistently within the allowed time. This simplification will usually make your speech more effective, too.

For organizers prevention is better than a cure. To avoid speakers talking too long there are several ways to address the problem:

Choose speakers carefully.  Whenever it is possible choose speakers who can be trusted to prepare carefully and respect timing. With new speakers watch for clues like the questions they ask. A speaker who doesn't ask how long they have exactly should ring alarm bells.

Clarify the time available. Always spell out very clearly how much time the speaker is expected to speak and how much time you plan to allow for questions.

Organize a rehearsal. For major events a rehearsal is essential. This is not always easy to organize but it is the best way to identify potential problems while there is still time to fix them.

Arrange a visible clock: Place a countdown clock where it can clearly be seen from the stage. There are countdown timers that use a laptop screen to display the time remaining. Use one.

Hire a good moderator. In any case every event needs a competent moderator who can keep speakers on time. The moderator can start to move when they see that the time is finishing, move closer to the speaker and intervene if necessary to stop someone going over their time.

But what happens if in spite of all this preparation one or more speakers has spoken too long and you are now behind schedule. What can the organizer do? You have to recover the delay as soon as possible and you should do this without dropping speakers or breaks. There are several practical methods:

Let moderator absorb delay. By far the easiest way to catch up lost time is to have the moderator take time from questions and introductions. Your schedule should have allowed time for this but the moderator will be able to adapt these times as needed.

Ask another speaker to be brief. Another approach is to ask a later speaker to shorten their talk. Only do this with competent speakers who you are sure can make this last minute change without problems. For this reason you should always schedule some good speakers later in the day.

Ask all speakers to shorten their talks. An alternative is to take a short time from each of the following speakers, but this is more complex to organize and might stress them all.

By far the best way to manage time effectively is a combination of preparation and control. Always be very clear with speakers about the time they are expected to talk and always have a competent moderator who is skilled in keeping events on time.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one to one coaching and writing about public speaking and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or through his website http://andrewhennigan.com


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