Amy Carroll » Speaking Tips » Time Constraints

Time Constraints

There’s an African saying that goes, “Africans have time but no watches.  Americans have watches but no time.”  How true!  I hear that you can literally preach for hours in African churches, but I can tell you from personal experience that Americans don’t have that kind of attention span or time-tolerance.

The one time that I’ve gotten negative feedback from an event, it was because I had gone significantly over the time I had been allotted.  I was embarrassed that I had forgotten my friend Macon’s rule about speaking.  She says, “I’d much rather stop early making the listeners wish that I had added more than speaking too long and making them wish I hadn’t said so much.”

Sage advice.

There are two things that can happen at an event that  cause time concerns.  Very often during an event someone will run long.  If that someone is before you, your time may be cut.  It’s not unusual for an event coordinator to ask you to cut your time.  (Even if she doesn’t, I have decided that it’s my philosophy to end on time.  People watch those watches!)

The other dilemma is if you’ve caused your own time problem by spending too long on one section of your message.  It’s tough to cut a message “on the fly”, so what do you do?

Karen Ehman presented our team with the easiest method I’ve heard.  Prepare your entire talk to be the length of the time you’ve been given.  Go back through your talk when it’s finished and decide the parts that are absolutely essential to your message.  These parts must be maintained to make the message a complete thought.  Keep those parts printed in black.

As you go through, think about sections (a story, a thought) that could be cut if needed.  Print these sections in a different color.  You may want to end with black and two additional colors.  Here’s how it works.  If you have your entire time, you do the black, blue and purple parts of the message.  If you are cut by 10 minutes, you do the black and blue part of your message.  If you’re time is cut drastically, you do the black part only.

Isn’t that wonderful?  This method allows you to plan ahead for time cuts instead of testing your deodorant when the decision is handed down.  Hope this helps you like it’s helped me!


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  1. Great information! Love when ideas make so much sense and practical steps are given instead of leaving us to learn by our own “hunt and peck” trials.
    This is one that will go in my growing speaking “handbook”.