Don’t Bother With Apologies If You’re Always Late or Longwinded

Some people are always late. Business woman showing the time on her wrist watch.They usually offer an excuse like “I missed the train” or “I was stuck on a phone call with a friend.” But after a while these excuses grow old. They could have made more time to get to the station or called the friend back later.

Observe the Guidelines

It’s not only being late for meetings, but includes speakers ignoring time guidelines. We were reminded of this when former Yankees manager Joe Torres was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Each inductee was scheduled to speak for 10 minutes.

“Torres was very long-winded when his speech went on for 29 minutes. He took some good-natured ribbing about it from his fellow Hall of Famers,” according to one report. After his lengthy remarks, Torres apologized profusely for forgetting to thank the late George Steinbrenner, the Yankees owner during his reign as manager.

That’s what happens when you ramble. You lose track of your key message points while also losing your audience.

Show Respect

When a speaker goes on and on, it’s a sign of disrespect. It throws off the entire schedule. If you’re called on to speak, you need to respect the overall plan.

Another group of people may be waiting outside the door for their meeting that is scheduled after yours. Soon, they will be making distracting noises and sticking their heads in the conference space with a not-so-subtle signal for you to get out. It isn’t fair to expect the last speakers to shorten their talks – or not get time to talk at all!

When required, people can be prompt. They manage to get to the airport to catch their flights, so they can get to meetings at the appointed time, too.

A colleague who was in charge of training at a New York bank several years ago recalls that her CEO would not tolerate tardiness, either for training classes or meetings with his executive team.

Once he closed the door, you were out of the meeting. His point was that if someone keeps a group waiting, he is wasting their productive time. Even if you’re only a minute late to a meeting of 30 people, that’s 30 minutes of lost work.

Don’t Behave Like a Politician

To put it nicely, politicians can be real windbags. Senators are famous for their filibusters. The late Strom Thurmond, the centurion from South Carolina, recorded the longest filibuster ever, talking for over 24 hours.

President Bill Clinton made his grand entrance onto the national political scene at the 1988 Democratic National Convention with a long-winded speech that had delegates cheering when he said, “In conclusion.”

You can’t be tone-deaf to your audience. Take your cues from them. Are they fidgeting in their seats and typing on their iPads? If they are, it’s time to wrap up. You’re giving a talk, not a filibuster.

Someone Needs to Take Charge

The host or organizer should take charge and set the parameters.Signs-traffic lights for children. It’s helpful to place a countdown clock at the podium so the speaker can pace herself. There is even a device that works like a traffic light: green is a go to talk, yellow means time is running out, red is the stoplight.

If you’re appearing on a TV talk show, then respect the time limit the producer has set. If you keep talking you will throw off the host’s timing and you’re not likely to be invited back.

When we’re coaching presenters, we act as a “verbal surgeon.” You can’t squeeze a 40-minute slide show into 10 minutes. Unfortunately, some people have such big egos they won’t even try to cut down their presentation. That’s when we come in armed with a scalpel.

Show respect for your host and your audience. Don’t be late and stay within the time guidelines you’ve been given. You don’t want the audience applauding with relief when they finally hear you say,  “To summarize my key points…”

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  1. As always, you are on target with these posts. Just to “prove” that I read them all the way through … where do I get this:

    There is even a device that works like a traffic light: green is a go to talk, yellow means time is running out, red is the stoplight.

    Considering how many events I chair, this long-windedness problem eludes me. Speakers look at a one-minute warning sign, which I post at 2 minutes, as if I’m being rude to them. One speaker said straight to me at the 11-minute mark, ”I know I have only 10 minutes but what I have to say is important to this audience.” That put me in my place [also make the audience sit up and stop fidgeting, good technique!]. She works in the Mayor’s Office [both Bloomberg & BdB, pretty good sign of her importance], so no sense in arguing.

    Thanks, all best,

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