“Make sure you have stopped speaking before your audience has stopped listening.” Dorothy Sarnoff.

Dorothy Sarnoff, a renowned vocal coach and opera singer, once imparted a timeless piece of wisdom: “Make sure you have stopped speaking before your audience has stopped listening.” In this seemingly simple yet profound quote, Sarnoff encapsulates a crucial aspect of effective communication—timing. Let us delve into the significance of this advice and explore how mastering the art of timing can elevate the impact of public speaking.

The Essence of Timing in Communication:

Communication is a two-way street, and the effectiveness of any message relies not just on what is said but also on how it is received. Dorothy Sarnoff’s quote underscores the importance of synchronizing the end of a speech or presentation with the engagement level of the audience. In essence, it’s a reminder that the timing of a conclusion can significantly impact the lasting impression a speaker leaves.

The Attention Span Challenge:

In today’s fast-paced world, attention spans are notoriously short. With the constant barrage of information and stimuli, audiences may easily drift if a speaker lingers too long or concludes abruptly. Sarnoff’s advice serves as a strategic guide for speakers to navigate the delicate balance between delivering a comprehensive message and holding the audience’s attention.

The Risks of Overstaying Your Welcome:

A speaker who continues to speak after the audience has mentally checked out risks diluting the impact of their message. The risk of losing the audience’s attention increases, and any key points made in the latter part of the speech may fall on deaf ears. The art of timing involves recognizing when you’ve conveyed your message effectively and respecting the attention limits of your audience.

Strategies for Mastering Timing in Public Speaking:

  1. Know Your Audience: Understanding your audience is fundamental to gauging their attention span. Consider factors such as the context of the event, the nature of the audience, and the purpose of your speech. Tailor your content and delivery style to align with the expectations and preferences of your listeners.
  2. Practice, Practice, Practice: Rehearse your speech meticulously to develop a keen awareness of its pacing and timing. Practice allows you to refine the delivery of your message, ensuring that you neither rush through crucial points nor linger excessively. Familiarity with your material boosts confidence and facilitates better control over timing.
  3. Use Pacing Techniques: Integrate strategic pauses into your speech. These pauses not only allow the audience to absorb information but also serve as a tool to emphasize key points. Well-timed pauses create a rhythm that keeps the audience engaged and enhances the overall impact of your message.
  4. Employ Visual and Verbal Cues: Pay attention to non-verbal cues from your audience. Are they leaning in, nodding in agreement, or showing signs of restlessness? Additionally, be mindful of your own pacing. If you notice a decrease in engagement, consider wrapping up or shifting to a more dynamic segment to rekindle interest.
  5. Craft a Strong Conclusion: Ensure that your conclusion is powerful and leaves a lasting impression. Summarize key points, restate your main message, or end with a thought-provoking statement. A strong conclusion signals to the audience that the speech is coming to an end and helps maintain their focus until the last word.

Real-World Examples of Effective Timing:

  1. Barack Obama’s Farewell Address: In his farewell address as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama skillfully balanced reflection and inspiration. He concluded his speech with a call to action and hope for the future, leaving the audience with a memorable and impactful message.
  2. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech: MLK’s iconic speech during the March on Washington is a masterclass in timing. He delivered his message with passion and conviction, capturing the audience’s attention until the powerful conclusion that resonates in history.


Dorothy Sarnoff’s advice serves as a valuable beacon for anyone engaged in public speaking. Timing is an art that, when mastered, transforms a speech from a mere monologue into a captivating dialogue with the audience. By understanding the dynamics of attention, employing strategic pacing, and crafting a memorable conclusion, speakers can ensure that their words resonate long after they’ve stopped speaking. In the world of effective communication, recognizing when to conclude is as crucial as the content itself, and Sarnoff’s timeless wisdom continues to guide speakers on this impactful journey.

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