February 18, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield

The Sixty Second Cram

Knowing When to Stop


This last week a friend invited to a business networking meeting. This particular event is a formal organization that meets every week. I have to admit it was an impressive group of people. A wide range of businesses and skill sets were represented there. Most of the attendees were there representing small businesses, and at least half of the people in attendance were the business owners.

Although I always feel a little apprehensive before attending a meeting of this nature I’m always glad I went after the fact. Something happens to me when I walk in a room and shake the first hand. Before long I find myself carrying on detailed conversations with people I’ve never met. I find it invigorating.

At one point the group sat down for a formal discussion, announcements and some short presentations. We all sat on the outer part of a big rectangle of tables. Everyone, including those of us who were guests were asked to give a one minute overview of our business. It was the classic elevator pitch. If you had to explain what you do during the length of an elevator ride, what would you say?

The first person got up, gave a quick overview and then sat back down. The second person did the same. When the third person was giving their overview I heard a “ding” that sounded like a kitchen timer, and then that person quickly sat down. It was then that I noticed a man resetting a timer on his phone for 60 seconds and then pushing the start button as the next person began speaking.

I realized that the third person had gone overtime.

It’s in moments like this that you realize just how short 60 seconds is. For the next several speakers I felt anxiety as I watched the timer tick backward from sixty toward zero. Some people were clearly watching the timer and some where not. When the timer dinged everyone was conscientious enough to wrap up immediately. But interestingly, no matter what they had said in their elevator pitch, that ding distracted from it all.

One person mentioned the anxiety she felt seeing that time, so she didn’t say much at all, she just sat down a little exasperated after about two sentences.

I learned a long time ago the importance of brevity, so I was actually excited for my turn to come. The shorter you can make your speech the better chance that people will remember what you said. And there is another principle here; just because you have 60 seconds doesn’t mean you need to use it all. Only allowing yourself 60 seconds is a great way to force yourself to be clear and concise. But when we put those constraints on ourselves, we are tempted to see just how much we can cram in the time. We treat it a little like a speed limit and we try to see how much we can get away with. I ‘m sorry to say I fell in that trap that day.

I started my speech. I watched the clock. And after 40 seconds I was done. If I would have shut up and sat down at that moment my entire pitch would have been punctuated by the confidence of a complete sentence and a clear ending. But I didn’t. I thought, “in the time left, I could probably mention something else.” So I started cramming. In my mind I still thought “speak slowly and clearly.” And although I like to think I still spoke eloquently, I found myself rushing and stumbling by the last few seconds. I didn’t want the bell to ring while I was speaking because it detracts from you message, it takes away from what you said, and it makes you appear slightly in less control of yourself.

I still managed to wrap up my speech and sit down about five seconds before the bell.

Although I didn’t say anything wrong, I knew it could have been better. I kicked myself a little for not stopping when I was “done.” Managing your time, even in those small instances, gives you a sense of control. And being able to make a point in a short period of time gives others the impression of your stability and professionalism.

Even after years of public speaking and presentation experience, I still have to remind myself of the basics. My takeaway reminders from that day were:

• Just because you have sixty seconds, doesn’t mean you need to use all of them.

• Share important thoughts briefly.

• Speak in such a way that those listening hear a distinct “period” at the end of your important sentences.

It will change how you feel and how others perceive you.

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