I attended a little workshop recently that mainly consisted of a series of talks by the participants. Most of these talks were simply wonderful — cogent and to the point, possessing a well defined and useful message, and extremely useful to the other attendees.
But one talk was a complete train wreck. Long, rambling, without sensible visuals, much of it seemed to be without purpose. By half way through, the rest of us realized we were trapped. The speaker apparently had no awareness of the listeners, no sense of a narrative arc, and — most importantly — seemingly no idea whatsoever that an audience’s time is valuable.
Before getting up to the front of the room, this speaker had given a little disclaimer about having needed to prepare at the last minute. But that’s really no excuse. If you are not sure what to say, it is *not* acceptable to making your speech three times longer on the theory that somewhere within the dross will be something useful.
I am reminded of the famous quote by Blaise Pascal in a 1657 letter: “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” The difference is that when a letter writer goes on and on about very little, you can skip to the end. When the same thing happens in a speech, the entire audience becomes painfully trapped.