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Put a STOP Sign on Speakers Going Overtime – (FAIR WARNING: Rant Ahead)

By August 1, 2017One Comment

allotted speaking timeRecently I sat in the audience of professional speakers in Orlando to watch a talented speaker (and friend) deliver a fantastic speech called ‘Be Re-memorable’.

He’d worked on this speech for nine months. How do I know that? Because I was there the day he got the call and he’s been working on that material ever since. And he absolutely blew the audience away! He owned the stage because of his creative and carefully crafted content and the customized songs that he wrote for the occasion. He made us laugh and he made us cry.


He was the fifth speaker that morning (way too many—right?) after a Presidential handover. Then there were three speakers all with a fifteen-minute window to speak. So, what happened to my friend? He didn’t start… until he was supposed to finish.  That’s crazy. What frustrated me most was that as professional speakers — we KNOW better, but our audience doesn’t know how much time each person is allocated.


Here’s the thing: As a professional speaker I know how important the allotted speaking time is. I have offered MANY meeting planners in my career the option of shortening my presentation to offer to bring their agenda back on time. Everyone appreciates that and some have asked me to take the full time.


This poor audience were tired, biology reminding them they needed a break, and their attention spans were potentially fried. Little did they know he wasn’t the speaker who was going late, but he was the last speaker of the day, it would be easy to blame him for blowing past his allotted speaking time. No one told them.


It’s easy to blame the speaker. It’s easy to blame the meeting planner. It’s easy to blame the lack of emcee. The blame is with all of us.


Hosting events is a partnership. It’s an agreement between meeting professionals, main-stage speakers, AV crew, audience members, emcees, break out speakers, and hotel staff. EVERYONE needs to be in it together to create a memorable experience that keeps audiences coming back year after year.

  • The emcee’s major responsibility is to keep the event flowing (and warn your speakers what you will do to them if they go over).
  • The event organizer needs contingency plans communicated if your event runs late.
  • The speaker needs to know it is NEVER OK to go overtime. Period. End of story. It’s unprofessional, selfish, and arrogant.
  • If the meeting planner tells their speaker to take the original allocated time it is their responsibility to tell the audience.
  • The audience needs to complete surveys to share feedback with meeting planners about their experiences.


We are all in this together.

What can you do if your speakers go overtime? I asked a group of other professional speakers and they had great solutions.

If you aren’t allowed to use a big hook (I am in favor of this) then the following are worth considering:

  1. Use a professional emcee that is responsible for meeting flow and timing.
  2. Ask the emcee to brief every speaker and let them know what will happen if they go overtime.
  3. Brief the AV crew to silence the microphones if someone goes over their allocated time.
  4. Ask the AV crew to start playing music… hey it works at the Oscars!
  5. Use a timer the speaker can see.
  6. Use a timer the audience can see. (This is controversial and powerful for short talks.)
  7. Meeting professionals – walk on stage and ask your audience to give them a round of applause … yes even if they aren’t finished.


I implore meeting professionals to reconsider scheduling so many speakers in a row and to better understand that audiences need that biology break. Their attention spans and desire to get up and move makes a less is more approach a better event plan.


An idea to put into play: Before you finalize your next speaker contract, can you add a clause about sticking to time?  Can you empower your emcee to remove someone if necessary? Can you help create a partnership that ultimately benefits your audience in a better way? Can you brief your AV crew of what you want them to do if instructed by you or the emcee when a speaker goes overtime? Let’s keep all our events on time and stop stealing minutes from each other.


Time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. When we pay ATTENTION to that importance and honor it at the highest level? Everyone wins.


Need others to understand the importance of this message? Watch and share this video as further understanding as to why we, in the speaking community, must be more attentive to the time we’re allotted each time we take stage.


All right. Rant over.

If you’d like to learn more about how paying ATTENTION to time, the details – both big and small, and what audiences today need and want, contact me. I’m happy to share how to make your next even AH-mazing!


This article was originally published on the fabulous, a brilliant online publication for the professional speaking industry.

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