Short! A reflex to set your speech up for success

Go short to see clearly. Photo by Joel Bengs on Unsplash

Less is more.

Heard it a thousand times.

But how? How do you start with less?

There is a super simple answer to that and it lies in a moment:

the moment they tell you how many minutes you have to speak.

I used to get this wrong.

When they gave me 10 minutes, I planned to speak for 10.
When they gave me 20 minutes, I planned for 20.
When they gave me 45, I planned for 45.

Nowadays, I do this:
They give me 10, I plan for 7.
They give me 20, I plan for 15.

Make it a reflex and you set yourself up for success.

First, going short forces you to see clearly.

It forces to you ask the right questions from the start:

“What is essential?”

“What do I need to achieve?”

Second, it makes you calm and gives you presence.

This mistake is so easy to make: speakers squeeze too much information into their speech which means that they are pressured for time which means they put their feet on the accelerator which means they rush through their speech which means they don’t resonate. As American speaker Craig Valentine says: “You cannot rush and resonate.”

You cannot rush and resonate

Finally, it’s a pleasant surprise for your listeners.

I vividly remember TEDxGhent back in 2014. I listened to many good speeches that day. Most were 10 to 18 minutes long. Then Pieter Colpaert walked onstage. Only he didn’t stay there long. He spoke for three (!) minutes. What a refreshment that was.

And which speech do you think I remember from that day?

Six years later, I remember Pieter’s message as if he had spoken a minute ago. This comes straight out of my memory:

Public transport companies should give open access to their transport schedules. People like Pieter can then build third-party apps where you can look up your full travel itinerary in one place – even when you switch from bus to train to tram and across different cities too.

Granted, going as short as Pieter isn’t always appropriate. When I’m asked to give a Keynote speech, the client wants me to speak a solid 30 minutes or more. But even then, I don’t fill every minute. And, in most moments, our listeners will love us for going short.

Here is Pieter’s speech:

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