How to Avoid Runaway Programs

A colleague once offered this sage advice: Never underestimate the power of a stage, a spotlight, and walk-on music. So very true!

We’ve all lived through the realities of speakers who hijack a program…with the best of intentions of course. Even if the remarks are well-received, there is typically more at stake than a cold entrée. When programs run longer than expected, you don’t just risk losing your audience, but losing money too as crew overtime accrues and venue rental charges increase.

With this in mind, we’re happy to share a few of our go-to tips for helping to ensure that your program stays on-point and on time:

1. Timing is Everything: Know upfront how long the program should be. In our world, if guests will be standing then the program should not be more than 15 minutes long. If guests will be seated, we aim for a program that is cumulatively no longer than 40 minutes. For example, if it’s a 90-minute seated dinner, guests should not be “talked at” for more than 30—40 minutes max, inclusive of videos and performances. Your audience needs time to enjoy the meal and the company, as well as talk about what they’ve just heard.

2. Assign Word Counts: It’s important – and only fair – to let your speakers know how much time they have to deliver their remarks. We find it’s very helpful to provide specific guidelines, such as “Your section of the program is slated to take 2 minutes. This means 250 words spoken at 125 words/minute – roughly a half-page of text.” A full page of single-spaced 12 pt type takes about 4 minutes to read. Brutal? Maybe, but effective.

3. Insist on Rehearsal: Speakers must be willing to rehearse, or they shouldn’t be part of the live program. If these are important folks who need to be heard but they are unable to rehearse, consider including them in multi-media pieces such as videos or an image montage with quotes. Creating your rehearsal schedule as early as possible also increases your chances that speakers will be available.

4. Have a Master Script Book: Let speakers know that they will be reading from a master script book waiting for them on stage. We strongly discourage speakers who want to walk up to the mic with their hand-written edits. Last minute changes can happen during rehearsal and the script book updated almost instantaneously. If budget allows, consider using a teleprompter. That will work wonders with keeping to the schedule.

5. Embrace the Countdown Timer: Finally, if you are aware that certain speakers are notoriously wordy or down-right rogue, make sure there is a countdown timer within view. Some speakers profess that the timers are distracting or make them nervous. To which we pleasantly reply: That’s the point. If you’re running on time, there is nothing to worry about.

Of course, if all else fails, continue to be the consummate professional you are and try to make up the time elsewhere. And take notes on who “misbehaved” for the next time.

Best Practices
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