Posted: 10th February 2016


If you’ve been to a conference then it’s possible you’ve experienced what usually happens when a number of speakers are invited to give a short briefing one after the other. Often, a day’s event will start with 4-6 plenary keynotes followed by a short tea and coffee break, and then more presentations before lunch.

The person who organised the event will have briefed the speakers to be strict to time but how often have you witnessed one of more speaker go way over their allocated time? Once a speaker is in full flow it’s too difficult, and very apparently rude, for the organiser to try to rush them off the stage. So instead organisers sit quietly re-shuffling the day’s schedule to accommodate the late running of the programme, even at such an early point in the day.

Some experienced organisers will try to anticipate this situation and allocate more time than necessary for the early briefings. For example, they may devote an hour of the day’s schedule to 4x 10 minute presentations. This gives them some wiggle room to pull time back if one or more speakers overrun. The problem with this tactic is that speakers can usually do basic maths, and realise what the organiser has done, and take it as a green light to ramble on a bit longer.

I’m a professional speaker and as well as challenging, engaging, enthusing and whatever else I do to my audiences, one of the things I think organisers pay me for is to finish on time!

I was a delegate at a day-long conference at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester last spring. The scenario I described above happened. Usually it's the breaks that are the first to be shortened when rejigging the schedule. There must have been 150-180 delegates, who would have been looking forward to an opportunity to network as well as enjoy a cup of coffee AND an amazing cookie...

The mid-morning break refreshments at this venue included some of the nicest cookies I’d ever seen. The kind you’d imagine an expert cookie-cooking grandma in a Laura Ashley kitchen and a Cath Kidston pinny had lovingly handmade the evening before. But the coffee break was dramatically cut short to get us back on schedule and this left my friend, Katie, and I with a real dilemma…

With such a large group of people, and 90 minutes after ‘arrival coffee’, you can imagine there was a long queue for the ladies’ toilets. We had a straight choice. If we joined the queue for the toilets, by the time we came out there wouldn’t be time to get a coffee/cookie; we’d have had to go straight back into the main hall. We only had time to get a coffee/cookie AND go to the toilet if we got the coffee and cookie FIRST… but then we’d have the “toiletcookie” problem. Toiletcookie is the cookie you take to the toilet (or any food actually – but toiletcookie sounds so funny that it stuck) and it doesn’t matter how clean you or the toilets are...


Nobody wants a toiletcookie!

So speakers, when you are asked to do a 10-minute presentation, remember 10 minutes isn’t long. The audience don’t expect you to explain to them everything you ever learned about a subject. If you finish after 8 minutes they won’t feel short-changed and insist you go back on stage to impart two more minutes of wisdom. Please, please finish on time and don’t be responsible for putting your audience in a toiletcookie decision-making situation. Rant over :)



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