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How to Avoid Going Over Time

By J.A. Gamache

3rd place winner in the 2001
Toastmasters International
World Championship of Public Speaking

Have you ever been disqualified from a contest because you went over time? Here are three sure-fire ways to  stay within any time limit.   

1- Find your speaking flow
Since everyone has their own speaking flow, i.e. the number of words spoken per minute, it is important that you find your own speaking  flow.
Do you know how many words you speak per minute? Here is how to find  out what is your own speaking flow. Read a text out loud and stop  after a minute to count the words (Microsoft Word has a tool for counting words). For example my speaking flow in French, my native language, is about 150 words a minute, while in English it slows down to 105 words a minute. This means that to give a seven minute speech in English my text cannot be longer than 735 words!
Another advantage of knowing your speaking flow, is that you can make corrections in your flow as you speak because you know where you  are supposed to be in your text at the green, amber and red light during a Toastmasters contest. This way you will know if you have to  speed up to avoid going over time.
Now that you have learned how to evaluate your speaking flow, find  your speaking style and hang on to it!


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2- Find your speaking style and hang on to it!
When you practice your speech, try to deliver it as closely as possible to the real thing. Any change in your speaking style will change the length of your speech.
Always practice your speech with the same voice fluctuation, the same energy and the same rhythm, and it will always be the same length. Now that you know your speaking style and you're hanging on to it, prepare a shorter ending.
3- Prepare a shorter ending
You delivered your best speech ever. You rehearsed it to stay within the time limit. People laughed and applauded but you are still  over time. Why? Applause and laughter take time. Did you know that a crowd of over a thousand people having a good laugh can take up to 10 seconds off your speech? What can you do? Two things: One, keep a time buffer. Personally I  keep a 45 second time buffer just for peace of mind. Two, always  prepare a shorter ending just in case.
You should now have all the tools you need during the three stages of your speech to prevent you from going over time.
While you are writing your speech, make sure you check your speaking  flow. While you are rehearsing, be sure you hang on to your speaking style and while you deliver your speech, keep your shorter ending in mind…just in case.

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