In his book The Articulate Executive, Granville Toogood writes that audiences can listen to even the best speakers for a maximum of 18 minutes. If you pass that point, you’ve lost them.
Most speakers aren’t exactly enthralling. So it’s even more imperative that they limit their time at the podium to less than 18 minutes.
How can you stick to such a tight time frame?
For starters, don’t feel obliged to tell people everything you want to say about the topic. A speech is not a data dump or a chance to explain what you find fascinating or what you think everyone must understand.
An effective presentation feeds listeners just enough information to keep them engaged. It doesn’t overwhelm them with details or take 30 minutes or more to rehash the same obvious point.
If you’re asked to speak for, say, 45 minutes, you cannot end after 18. So how do you fill the time without putting people to sleep?
Start by welcoming questions throughout your talk. From the outset, let everyone know that you’re happy to field inquiries at any point. You may even want to plant one or two questioners in the audience to set a good example early on.
Limit your use of slides so that you’re not beholden to them. Many presenters sabotage themselves by trying to get through dozens of slides. They’ll rush from chart to chart while saying, “I don’t have time to do this justice, but I just wanted you to see this.”
Another tip is to bring in another speaker. When audience members see and hear someone new, it tends to enliven the proceedings.