If you do any kind of public speaking – whether an elevator speech at a business meeting, a speech at a wedding, a presentation to colleagues, or anything else – keeping your content to a set time is usually very important.
And there’s nothing more embarrassing than being “buzzed” because you’re running over your time slot … being frantically waved at by an event organiser who is desperate to keep the meeting on schedule when you seem to be talking on blithely … or watching a social audience get twitchy, desperate to move on to the bar or to the toilets, or both.
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1. No worries: timing your talk or speech is simple
2. The bad news is, you need to write yourself some sort of script. The good news is, the only reason why you need to write yourself a script – and it needs only be a “skeleton” script” – is to provide a basis on which to calculate the timing.
3. As long as you don’t deviate too much from your basic script your timing will be ace. So, get scribbling or typing. If you need any help with what to say, there is plenty of advice here on HTWB – check out your particular interest by typing it into the search box top right.
4. Once you’re done writing, count up the number of words
5. Here, we can move in two directions: approximate, and scientific. Approximate means asking yourself, “do I speak slowly, medium-paced, or fast?” People’s normal speech runs at about 120 to 200 words per minute. Slot yourself into what you feel is about right for you. Divide the number of words you’ve written by the number of words you speak per minute, and you have a rough estimate of how long that particular piece will take you to say. Example: 200 words of business networking introduction, and you’re a fairly fast talker … 200 divided by 175 words per minute = around 1 minute 10-15 seconds.
6. Scientific means record yourself speaking at your normal pace in conversation. Transcribe one minute’s worth and reduce the number by about 15 percent to allow for the need to speak more slowly when addressing an audience. Then calculate your average speaking speed more accurately, against the number of words in your script.
7. Now: to read from a written script or not?
8. Most public speaking trainers I know, like Simon Raybould, advocate that you shouldn’t use a script – but speak from bullet points with a prepared opening and close. That’s all fine and dandy (sorry Simon) … but when you’re a beginner, using a script is a reassuring way to start with public speaking. So if you are nervous and aren’t comfortable with working off notes or cue cards, use your script. Not only will your script keep you to your time, but also it will give you the confidence you need to deliver your information confidently.
9. As you grow more confident, you’ll find you depend less and less on your script, so work with highlighting key points to remind you – then ad lib the rest. Having started with a pre-timed script, however, you are much less likely to drift beyond its perimeters even if you do ad lib a bit.
10. And finally? Enjoy your presentation, knowing that it’s the right length!
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