One of the scariest things when speaking is figuring out when you’re going too long. You don’t want to speak so long you bore people, but you do want to fill the time you’ve been given.
Many times I’ve assumed that churches will have clocks on the back of the wall when I speak. Big mistake. Some do, but not all. Or else they “conveniently” place the clock on the side wall, so that to look at it you have to wrench your neck, which is obvious to everyone there!
Other times we think a watch on the podium will suffice. Think again. You’re trying to maintain eye contact and keep a rhythm going in your talk. Most watches are tiny, and how do you get them to stay in place when you’re turning pages? Even worse, how do you glance at it quickly and unobtrusively? You can’t.
Besides that, watches only work in two conditions:
1. You can do math
2. You remember to actually look at the clock or the watch as soon as you start speaking.
Quite frequently I forget #2, and then, even if a clock is visible, if I have no idea what time I started, how do I tell how long I’ve been speaking for? Even if I remember to check #2, when you’re busy speaking, and you don’t want to break the flow, then when you look at a clock, it’s hard to tell how long you’ve actually been speaking for quickly, because you have to do the math in your head while you’re actually thinking about something else.
That’s why the common kitchen timer is my new best friend.
If you remember to click “start” when you begin talking, you’ll always know exactly how long you’ve been speaking for. You can also put marks in your notes to let you know where you should be at 10 minutes, or at 16 minutes, etc. etc., so you have a sense of whether you need to get through some material more quickly, or whether you’re right on target.
I would recommend counting “up” instead of counting “down”, though. Let’s say you want to make sure you only talk for 50 minutes. If you set it for 50 minutes and let count down, that sounds reasonable, because it tells you how long you have left. Unfortunately, though, most timers “beep” when time is up. So unless you want the timer beeping in the middle of your powerful closing statement, I’d recommend counting up!
It’s not hard, but it’s one of the handiest speaking tools I have! So get yourself a kitchen timer, and then you don’t have to worry about time ever again!