T is for Time

Speaking takes time. Time to prepare. Time to practice. Time to deliver – within time.

Roosevelt Quote on Public Speaking

My father gave me these tips on speech making. Be sincere, be brief, and be seated. – James Roosevelt



Time to Prepare

One of the most powerful speakers of our time, Winston Churchill, was asked how much he charged to make a speech. He replied, “$2,000.”

“That’s a lot. We only wanted you to talk for ten minutes.” the event organizer replied.

“In that case, it will cost $4,000,” said Churchill.

The point Mr. Churchill was making is that it takes time to prepare a message that is brief and to the point.

The Public Speaker’s Treasure Chest: A Compendium of Source Material to Make Your Speech Sparkle, Revised and Enlarged says speakers who take their job seriously will spend from ½ hour to as much as one or two hours in preparation for each minute they expect to speak. A 15-minute speech would mean a minimum of seven and one-half hours of preparation.

An audio version of Successful Presentations for Dummies made an excellent argument for giving yourself enough time to prepare for your presentation. It is critical to be able to walk away from your presentation for a few hours or even a few days so you can return to it with a fresh pair of eyes. You would be amazed how excellently you can craft a presentation if you’ve got time to set it aside and let it percolate. 
Prepare different lengths of your talk

If your message is important, you’ll want formats to deliver your message within certain time frames.

Jack Barnard recommends the following tip for preparing talks:

  • Prepare a 30-45 second commercial
  • A five-minute version, a 15-minute version
  • A 45-minute keynote speech
  •  Maybe even a half-day or all-day seminars on your topic.

The additional value of this practice is when asked to cut or add to a presentation  the day you are delivering it, you already have shorter and longer versions prepared.  
Time to Deliver

Presentations for Dummies tells us that a speech you rehearse alone will be an average of 33% longer when you deliver it in front of a large audience. This means a five-minute talk to yourself might run 6 ½ or 7 minutes in front of an audience. A 10-minute talk could run 13-14 minutes. The time increase may range as high as 60% when you speak to an audience of several hundred people. That is a primary reason why meetings run overtime.

And because so many people do run overtime, someone may ask you to cut your speech. Don’t try to deliver your full speech in a smaller time crunch. Instead, decide on your five most important slides, or two most important points and don’t cut your conclusion. (Of course, if you’ve followed Jack’s recommendation stated above, you are already prepared for those cuts.)

I did a post on how to you can quickly gauge how long your talk will buy writing it out and doing a word count. This technique alone has saved me much grief. Takes the guesswork out of preparing a talk.


Before Lincoln delivered his immortal Gettysburg Address, a famous orator spoke to the crowd for two hours. After Lincoln had finished, the orator went up to him and said, “You managed to say more in three minutes than I did in two hours.” – Readers Digest

Image source:  Linnaea on Public Domain Pictures

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