How to Adjust Your Speech When Your Allotted Time Changes


As the time for his speech to end came and went, the well-known, retired news anchor showed no signs of closing.  My speaking slot was after his, and it was apparent I wasn’t going to get the full 60 minutes I had been asked to prepare for.  Five minutes.  Ten minutes.  Finally, at 15 minutes into my time slot, he finished and I was introduced.

I was the only thing standing between my audience and lunch.  There was no way that I was going to go over time!  So, I cut out some material and one activity.

Unlike a Toastmasters meeting, where the speaker is given a time range of 5-7 minutes, for example, real-life presentations don’t always neatly fit an allotted time.  Usually, they end up being shorter, but sometimes longer.  I’ve had a few occasions speaking to high school audiences in which I showed up to the class room and discovered that I had 80 minutes to deliver a 45 minute presentation.

What are some ways to make time adjustments?

First, plan your presentation in “modules” that can be added or deleted as time allows.  Modules can include both the content you cover and the activities you plan.  If you are doing a PowerPoint presentation, you can “hide” or “show” slides as needed (in the “slide show” tab area).

Second, plan your presentation “modules” to allow for adding and deleting content within the module.  For example if you are anchoring your point with facts, a story and an activity, you can cut the story or the activity to accommodate less time.  When it comes to activities you can also lengthen and shorten the activity, typically by changing the time or the number of respondents (if doing a question and answer time or asking for audience input).  Of course, if you are running short on time, you can completely eliminate the Q&A.

Finally, confirm with the meeting planner at the event what time you need to be done by.  Plan on bringing your own means of telling time.  Clocks are not always in a meeting room and even if they are, they are not always in a good location.  I use an app on my iPhone and iPad called Big Clock HD, which simply gives me the time in large digits.

Resist dropping your conclusion because you are running out of time—cut almost anywhere else.  Your conclusion is what the audience will typically remember best.  Do you want them to remember you saying, “Well, I guess I’m out of time.  Thank you.”?   Ugh.

It never hurts to say, “I have so much more I’d like to share . . .” as you may get invited back to speak!

See also “Never Speak Too Long Again”

Finding My Voice: My Toastmaster Testimonial

This is me at three:

Big teeth.

Big smile.

Bad hair day.

Some things never change!

However, one thing that did change for me at three was that I began to realize the power of the spoken word.

My mother had brought me to work to meet her boss and coworkers.  One look at her boss and I was in awe.  She was just about the ugliest woman I had ever seen—long pointy chin, hooked nose, dark, bushy eyebrows over beady eyes.  I blurted out, “Mommy!  She looks like the Wicked Witch of the West!”   Suddenly, there was complete silence.  Wow.  I had made quite an impression!

My mother turned to me and said, “Diane, don’t you mean, Glenda the Good Witch?”

Hello?  Did my mother just lose her mind? “No. Glenda was pretty!”

Fortunately, my mother’s boss started laughing and all was well.  And I had found a new power—the power of words.

But as I got older, the power weakened, dimmed by the lack of self-confidence that can occur during the teen years.

As I entered the work force as a woman engineer, I paid more attention to my abilities to calculate than to my abilities to communicate.

Later, as a stay-at-home parent, I began to feel that I was becoming invisible and didn’t have much to say.  I was losing my voice.

I can thank Toastmasters for helping me find my voice.

When I visited a Toastmasters club in late 2003, I didn’t know that Toastmasters would lead to a new career path.  I didn’t know that Toastmasters would lead me to some of my best friends.  I didn’t know that Toastmasters would not only make me a better speaker, but also a better leader.

I’d like to tell you that my joining Toastmasters was part of a bigger plan for my life—a powerful plan for powerful words—but it wasn’t—well, maybe it was—it just wasn’t my plan.

When I first visited a club, I wasn’t looking to become a polished speaker or to enhance my leadership skills. I was just looking for a club that would allow my homeschooled, teenaged son to participate, even though he was too young to join.  They welcomed his participation, on one condition—I had to join the club!

I joined the club and the next week, I was in a leadership position, as educational vice president, helping to plan club meetings.  Over the past few years I have  held several club and district leadership positions, greatly improving both my  management and leadership skills—“on-the-job” leadership training in the non-threatening and supportive environment that is a hallmark of Toastmasters.

In addition to growing in leadership skills, I grew in communication skills through the various projects emphasizing different aspects of communication from the basics of organizing a speech to the challenges of leading discussions.

I was finding my voice again—rediscovering the power of words.

And I also found the best kinds of friends—the encouraging kind!

It was with the encouragement of other Toastmasters that I began to consider developing myself as a professional speaker.

I found my voice.

Toastmasters can help you find yours.  Find a club near you:

If you’d like to know more about my story or about Toastmasters, feel free to contact me!

Open Your Mouth and Don’t say “Ahh”

Ah . . . Um . . . You know, filler words are, like, bad when they are excessive.

While I’m not in the militant camp that feels they need to be eliminated entirely, I do feel most people could reduce their use. Filler words can be distracting and they can reduce your credibility, making you look uncertain.

Filler words include:

  • actual words and phrases that are used without adding to the meaning of what you are saying (such as so, like, you know, okay, actually and the use of and which results in run-on sentences)
  • sounds: ah, um, er

Filler words typically occur when a person is filling air space while composing a thought. Sometimes they increase when a person is nervous or feeling pressured. They do serve a linguistic function. According to recent research, the use of filler words in conversation signals that a delay is coming, which helps the speaker avoid a silent gap in conversation that might otherwise prove confusing (it also lets the listener know you are not done with your turn in talking).

Personally, I’ve noticed that most people use fewer filler words, at least of the “ah” and “um” variety, in conversation than they do in speaking. This led me to informally observe when speakers say “uh” or “um” in presentations. These fillers most often occur when the speaker is not making eye contact. The speaker typically breaks eye contact (if they had it in the first place) and looks off to the side, thinking and saying, “ah” or “um.”

What can you do to reduce filler words:

1. Record & Measure: Find out just how bad it really is. As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Video or audio record yourself. If you are aware of your APM (Ahs Per Minute), you can work on reducing it. Rejoice in small victories.

2. Make eye contact. Don’t speak unless you are making eye contact with an individual. Don’t speak while looking at notes (look at your notes, look up and THEN speak) and don’t speak when if you look away while you are trying to come up with the right word. Just be silent.

3. Be quiet. Silence is golden. Focus on using pauses instead of filler words.

4. Join Toastmasters! Most Toastmasters clubs have an ah-counter who will record your use of filler words. In some clubs an audible sound (such as a click) is made to make you immediately aware of your use of a filler word. While this may be unnerving, it is very effective. In a speech class for teens that I taught last year, one young man, over the course of 7 speeches in the semester, reduced his ahs from 55 in a 5-7 minute speech to only 1!

Open your mouth and don’t say, “Ah.”