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Want to Be a Professional Speaker? Stick to the Limit

Secret:  When I’m speaking to a conference, I hate to get scheduled behind time hogs.  I spoke at a conference last year, and a local leader was scheduled to do a 15-20 minute introduction to the conference.  I was scheduled to do the keynote talk for 45 minutes right after him.  The problem was he ran on for 45+ minutes himself, cutting my time down to 30.  Because he couldn’t discipline himself as a speaker, he forced me to cut my talk by 1/3 on the fly.  It’s not a matter of me being a great speaker.  It’s simply a matter of courtesy.  Each of us plans our talks based on the time limits of the program, and to exceed yours at the expense of other people is incredibly inconsiderate.  Not to mention the conference host got ripped off because he’d paid for me to fly across country to be the keynote speaker, but I was forced to cut that short.

Pastors may be the worst time offenders because they do the vast majority of speaking on their home turf and control the playing field.  So they don’t develop the discipline of speaking to a certain time.  Conference organizers hate it because it throws off the rest of the schedule.  The problem is that too many people start to speak and think the audience is really digging them and assume nobody minds if they run over.


First – learn to read the room.  Trust me, in most cases, the audience isn’t digging you as much as you think.  I know from experience.  Learn to read the temperature of the audience and leave them at a high point – not with them wishing you would leave.  A famous opera singer said you should stop singing before the audience has stopped listening.  Good rule.

Second – practice at home.  Hitting a time limit is a learned skill.  Don’t wing it and expect to hit the target – ever.

Third – respect the other speakers!  They have something important to share, and you’re taking that away from the audience.

Finally – if you really want to be invited back, learn to respect the schedule.  No matter what the time limit, you should be able to nail it.  Even if it’s only scheduled for 10 minutes, if you can’t bring something compelling at that length, then don’t get up at all.