Speech timing is crucial to fitting your speaking spot with your presentation. Speaking contests are a great way for you to learn and hone a variety of speaking and presentation skills. There are many reasons why you should compete in speech contests. First and foremost, surround yourself with those you would like to become. There is no better and practical method of becoming better than by actually practising and doing. Like any competition, you learn more and perform better when you are surrounded by experts in your chosen field. That environment raises the bar for you to strive for. It is no different with speech contests. For the purpose of this article, I will share in the context of Toastmasters speech contests, since we are in the midst of the spring international speech contest season for Toastmasters the world over.
Speech Timing Is Everything
Toastmasters competitive speeches must be longer than 4 minutes and 30 seconds but less than 7 minutes and 30 seconds. Too short or too long, and you are disqualified, in secret of course, by the judges. Most speeches I have timed, come in around 7 minutes. That gives you 30 seconds of headroom to ensure you do not disqualify yourself. At one contest I came in at 6 minutes. My coach and I conferred later. I stated that I said all I had to say and didn’t want to droan on. I wanted to keep it short and sweet. She replied that I could have picked up extra points using that minute by making body jestures, facial expressions or injecting some vocal variety, with a target finish of 7 minutes.
Speech Timing And The Laugh Window
Your speech length will need to adjust on its journey from club, area, division, district. Your audience will grow in size from 20 at club to well over 1oo at district. As the audience gets bigger, so does the laugh window. The laugh window is the time from when the first person laughs to when the last person finishes laughing. A big audience has a laugh wave characteristic, much like “the wave” phenomenon at a sporting event. Rule is, “Never talk over your audience when they are laughing”. You won’t be heard and want to capture that energy from your audience. Audience laughter is dialogue back to you. Laughter becomes a (good) vicious circle feeding off itself. When Toastmasters compete at the World Championship of Public Speaking WCPS, the audience will be 2000+ . Use their laughter to your advantage. Laughter is a great way to connect. Savor their laughter.
Laughter as Dialogue
So what do you do while you are waiting for your audience to finish laughing? Throw in some non-verbals like facial expressions or body language. Give them something to watch while they are laughing. You feed off them and get a chance to score some easy points from the judges by adding body language, jestures or facial expressions. Use that laugh window to score some easy points from the judges. It also adds entertainment value to your speech. It makes you as a speaker interesting to watch. As the audience gets larger, a longer laugh window will have to be accommodated. The safest is to adjust and target your finishing time at 7 minutes, adjusting your delivery as your audience gets bigger.
Keep Yourself in the Race
You wrote a fantastic speech. You love sharing your message. Whatever you do, do not disqualify yourself by going over 7:30 on your speech timing. Try to adjust your speech so you finish around the 7 minute mark; maximum of 7:15. That also allows for some timing irregularities that may occur, like when the timing starts and stops on jestures, which the timer may not be clear on. The timers numbers are always final. Keep yourself in the contest.
Take Away For You
So you are not a Toastmaster or into competing with speeches. What is your takeaway from this? When talking to people, understand that their laughter is dialogue back to you. Let them laugh and don’t talk over them. Laugh or atleast smile back in return, if you don’t have anything quick to say in response. If they laugh, it tells you something. If they don’t it tells you something else like maybe they don’t understand or agree. Even a smile back to you is dialogue and communicating in return. Though not a formal competition, every time we are speaking to others, we are communicating to 1, small groups or large gatherings. It becomes a form of competition. Keep yourself in the contest. Engage with your audience so you get that dialogue. Here’s to your competing and speaking success !