In a conference setting, nothing annoys audiences more than talks that go overtime. It shows a lack of consideration for the audience, and to be frank, there is absolutely no excuse for it if the speaker has prepared well.
Many seminars and conferences are run on a tight schedule with multiple rooms running multiple talks at the same time. If one speaker carelessly goes overtime, it means the delegates might miss a portion of the next talk in another room. Even if you are the only speaker scheduled, it still shows a lack of consideration to go over time. Some in the audience may have scheduled transport at a specific time, others might have appointments planned. Never assume that just because you don't have anywhere else to be, that it is okay to go overtime.
Something else happens when a talk goes overtime. As the allotted time draws to a close, many in the audience will start to look at their watches and fidget, and the speaker will lose their attention. The longer this goes on for, the worse it gets and more and more in the audience will join in this practice. Ultimately when the speaker does conclude, the audience will be so annoyed at how much he has gone overtime that the value of the message will be lost.
Even the speaker himself will suffer by going overtime. As he comes to the realisation of how little time is left, as well as knowing he is losing the attention of the audience, he will tend to panic and rush through the final section, trying to cram it all in. The problem with doing that is the talk will cease to be effective. If a conclusion is rushed, it is pointless. A conclusion needs the proper amount of time to be effective.
The best thing to do if you are running out of time is to skip a sub-point or two so that you can still present a powerful conclusion. Depending on the circumstances you may still be able to briefly state the point(s) that you don't have time to fully cover, and then move on. Again, preparation means knowing what points are key to your talk, and what secondary points could be missed out if necessary.
If you track your time in each section of your talk, you should not have this problem at all, because you will never get too far behind. Of course, this means having a watch or clock easily visible. Don't continually glance at your watch as this is distracting, it is far better to hide a clock somewhere on the stage so that you can easily glance at it when required. Alternatively, a small digital clock could be placed on the podium, near your notes.
At the other end of the scale, occasionally some speakers find that they have prepared too little material, and they have lots more time available to them. Rather than attempting to fill the time by waffling and padding out the material, it is better to finish early. By all means slow the pace a little, and make use of the extra time that way, but don't feel that you have to fill every last second, because your talk will lose its effectiveness. It should be noted that the problem of being under time is very unusual. In most cases, if there is a problem with timing it will be that you are running out of it!
As a guide, bear in mind that your talk will ALWAYS take considerably more time when presenting it live, as opposed to when you time your rehearsals. Allow for this, and if anything, err on the side of caution by preparing less material than you think you need. This requires discipline because the natural tendency is to cram as much information as possible into a presentation.
Proper timing also includes allocating appropriate portions of time to each section of your talk, so that it is balanced. Each point should have the right amount of time apportioned to it in order to develop it and make it clear. Key sections of your material will obviously need more time to develop than the minor points.
Paul Daniels is often described as The Johnny Carson of England. In his home country he is a household name due to his more than 20 years of prime-time TV shows that have been broadcast to 41 countries. Paul's course: The Stress Free Guide To Public Speaking and Presentations is the International best selling speaking course of which this article is an extract. Visit: http://www.stressfreepublicspeaking.com for more information.