I’ll be brief. Don’t go over time.
Or, as Winston Churchill might have put it: Never speak too long. Never speak too long. Never speak too long.
But, it’s not always about ending your speech within the allotted time, sometimes it’s about ending on time.
One of the questions I ask in my pre-program questionnaire for speaking engagements is, “Based on other programs your people had attended with an outside speaker, what did they like most? Least?”
The top of the most disliked things: speakers who speak past the ending time for a session (FYI, the number two most disliked thing is when a speaker reads his or her PowerPoint slides).
If you are in Toastmasters, you have been trained to speak within an allotted time, typically 5-7 minutes for a prepared speech. This “specific allotted time” mindset can be problematic when the schedule needs to be adjusted (for example, if other speakers speak too long). You definitely do not want to be the speaker who stands between your audience and lunch (or, going home).
See How to Adjust your Speech When Your Allotted Time Changes for what you can do as a speaker.
What if you are planning a business or conference meeting?
1. Address timing. Proactively address the timing issue with all participants and having a timer who signals time (can use green-yellow-red folders to indicate nearing the end). Communicate how going over time will be handled. Using a direct, “Thank you. Your time is up” and clapping for people who go 30 seconds over is one way to handle it.
2. No additions. Resist allowing additional speakers on the agenda without prior approval.
3. Cut. If additional speakers are allowed, cut elsewhere to make up time, if needed.
4. Adjust. If the meeting threatens to go over time, adjust on the fly, cutting time allotments and possibly entire reports, with a plan for how necessary information will be distributed later.
A wise person once said, “The mind can absorb no more than the seat can endure.”
Be brief. Be seated. Let your audience go on time! (or, even a little early . . . nobody ever complains about a meeting ending 5 minutes early).