Public Speaking: Make Time For Timing

Matt KramerPublic Speaking, Uncategorized2 Comments

time - public speaking - timing


It is extremely important that you time your presentations. It’s both a courteous thing to do, and it shows that you give a damn. Besides, you’ve probably been given a slot of time with which to work. It’s best not to exceed it.

Perhaps you’ve heard that when you prepare for your talk, you should plan for possible laughter or audience engagement that hopefully occurs during your speech? If not, now you know.

Something that is often missing from the standard timing dogma is this: When you practice by yourself, and even make the necessary pauses as if you were interacting with an audience, you’re timing is still going to be wrong.


Because when you are in front of an audience, almost always, without fail, you will finish sooner than what you’ve prepared for at home. Usually this is due to public speaking “excitement” that spikes up before you speak.

Comedian Paul Reiser once said this in an interview, “I studied piano in college and my piano teacher said that when you’re performing, your adrenaline will probably kick in and make you want to go faster, so slow down, and if you think you’re going too slow, slow down even more.” I don’t know about you, but I’m with the piano teacher on this one. 

However, this can be a troublesome proposition under certain circumstances. What if you were in a speech contest where you had a time limit?

Here’s an added dagger to throw you off: It’s also possible to go longer than what you prepared for.

“But wait a minute Matt!! You said we’d finish sooner!” I know. I know. Hang on a sec.

Let me explain.

If you have a large enough audience—and you play your cards right with the funny—the interaction between you and your audience could actually push the length of your speech beyond what you rehearsed in the comfort of your own home.

Here’s why. Audience laughter. The laughter itself and the fact that laughter alleviates some of your nervousness which untangles your skewed perception of time that was caused by nervousness to begin with. Confusing…I know.

It simply takes longer for the laughter to die out. Think of it like the wave at a baseball game. Some people might not get the joke till slightly later, and some might just find what you said funnier than the others did. And of course, if you’re completely at ease on stage, then you will actually be speaking at your normal pace which, combined by longer fits of laughter, will further extend your speech.

The problem with all of this though is that you can never know exactly how your audience will dictate the terms of your timing. It’s unpredictable. Believe me, you want those moments of laughter that I’m talking about. But, you might not be funny that night or the audience might just be in la la land during your speech. [Definitely not the first thing, right?]

Well, what the heck do we do then?

Good question.

You want your at-home rehearsal timing to be shorter than your time slot. How short depends on how long your talk will be.

Let’s take for example the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. The speeches must be 5-7 minutes in length with the max being 7 minutes 30 seconds. Any longer and you’re disqualified.

In this case, your at-home rehearsal should cap out at no later than 7 minutes, because you could always consciously slow down to extend the speech if need be. Extra pauses, talking slower at important points, etc. It’s difficult to do although with practice it can be done. Oh yeah, to clarify, I don’t mean talking annoyingly slow like Ben Stein. “Dryyyy eyessssss”

But if you have an excited audience, you can’t really tell them to “shut up” or to talk over their laughs, well you could, but…not a good idea.

So, prepare to go shorter even though typically you’ll finish sooner than your practice runs. After all, you can always slow down to extend your talk.


P.S. I recently published an article on the motivational website Check it out if you have a couple minutes to spare. It’s about keeping promises to the most important person in the world…YOU. So promise me that you’ll read it 🙂  Click here to read.

P.S.S. Happy Thanksgiving!!! Of course, we should do our best to give gratitude every single day of the year, even on the days when we’re mad as hell! 🙂


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2 Comments on “Public Speaking: Make Time For Timing”

  1. Well said! This is the type of tip that only experts pick up on — clearly you’re one of them! And those experts only learn them by doing and noticing as they go — again, well done! It’s all part of becoming more and more natural while doing public speaking: the more conversational you can make it (as Richard Branson would say:, the more effective — and less nervous — you’ll be (Richard Branson again).
    I certainly need to keep this one in mind for myself — thanks for the tip!
    Oh — and nice job on the Pick Your Brain article!

    1. I appreciate it Bill. Just like you said, it’s all about being aware and taking those mental notes.

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