3 Ways to Keep the Clock from Ruining Your Vocal Impact
Scenario 1: You are in the zone with your talk. The audience is with you, and you are just about to hit them with your Zinger point. Suddenly you get a nod from the timekeeper. You have 5 minutes. Darn! You thought you had 15. You have lost track of time. What do you do?
Scenario 2: You’ve been asked to speak on a very popular topic. You have 30 minutes to cover what normally takes you an hour. Expectations are high that you will provide some much-needed insight. Do you try to get it all in, or do you cheat the audience out of the depth of your knowledge?
Recently, I’ve seen three large group sessions. In each case, the speakers were told ahead of time that they would be cut off if they went over the time allotted for their part of the meeting. Most of the speakers resorted to racing through their presentation. This was evident as run-on sentences, lack of pauses, lack of expressive speaking, and poor articulation. Unfortunately, when you lose expression, space, and clarity, your impact as a speaker goes down dramatically. In addition, when you become focused on the need for speed, you lose sight of your original reason for being there … AND the audience knows it. This means you may lose their engagement and they may become more eager to get you off the stage and get on to the next person or event. As frustrating as the clock can be, these presentations led me to consider two questions: is there a way to speed up a presentation without sacrificing the quality of the delivery or the content? And is there a way to keep the audience with you even when everyone knows they are pressed for time? I say, Yes! Here’s how.
What to do when you are rushed
Keep your body strong and centered
Breathe, stay still instead of wandering (in person) Speak up.
When you feel pressured, it will show in your body if you don’t center yourself. It will show as an extraneous movement, or jumping eye contact, or shallow breathing. Instead of letting that happen,
- When you get the high sign to wrap it up, take a big breath. Slow down for a moment. Then go on.
- Continue to project your voice. Many people start to stumble and mumble when they are in a hurry. Instead, speak up and finish your words and thoughts clearly, with energy.
- Shake it off. Often the pressure to finish early is accompanied by a physical buildup of anxiety. Move but don’t wander. In fact, ground yourself in one spot. Bend your knees and breathe again.
Keep your words aligned with your intention
You will have the most impact as a speaker if you keep your intention aligned with your content and both with the sound of your voice. Your intention speaks loudly and others pick it up, whether you want them to or not. If your intention changes from education or entertainment to getting out of there fast, people will pick up the fact that you are no longer focused on getting them what you once considered valuable content. They may lose interest too or see you as less credible.
- Set your intention ahead of time and don’t forget it. Write it down or memorize it and when pressed, go back to it. This will assure that you have it in mind and continue to align it with your delivery.
- If you are told to cut your talk short, immediately consider the intention you had and deliver only the parts of your talk that allow you to fulfill your intention. However, don’t drop your close or summary when you are in a hurry. Drop something else instead. Here is a post on how to Shorten a Speech from Christopher Witt.
- Always have a Plan B for emergencies such as running out of time. For example, consider in advance how to set up a way to continue the conversation later with those who are interested. For ways to handle surprises in presentations, please see Kathy Rieffenstein’s post here.
Keep up the energy without sacrificing the expression and clarity
Energy is a force to be reckoned with. When you have it, it colors your words and stimulates your listener. Keep your energy alive without speeding up your speaking. That way, the clock-watchers will not be afraid that you are going to go over your allotted time, and your audience will feel that energy as power rather than fear of the clock.
- Continue to pay attention to pauses and expressive speaking. Paint pictures with your color words.
- Make it even more dramatic than usual to counteract the pressure you feel. This may even create a chemistry that is more engaging! Olivia Mitchell also has some excellent ideas for turning your audience from attention to engagement in a post on her blog.
- Continue to use cadence to punctuate your words. There is an urge to simply speak a long, run-on line of connected ideas when you are in a hurry. Instead, train yourself to become hyper-aware of “listing” when you are rushed. Take the time to use both open and closed cadence. Finish your ideas. Finally, introduce new ideas with new color and without a transition word such as “and” or “so.”
More on this topic from Ben Decker: Timing is Everything