A countdown timer is simply a digital clock that has been set at a given time-frame and runs the minutes and second down to zero so that, during any time in your speech, you can glance at the timer to know exactly how much time you have left.
These timers obviously face the speaker, and often employ bright red LED lights so that their hard to miss. They're always placed out of view of the audience, high in the back of the room or somewhere closer to the speaker.
It's hard to keep track of time when you're speaking in front of an audience.
More often than I care to remember I've found myself in the middle of a speech, all passionate, fiery and energetic, only to suddenly realize that I have no idea I long I've already been speaking and, even worse (for the audience at least), how much time I have left.
Once, during one of my earlier bouts with public speaking, I prepared notes for my 30-minute talk, which ended up being one hour. Something I only realized towards the end of it!
Now secretly, I've always wished that someone in the audience would be bold enough to remind these kind of people, who drone on without taking note of the time, that they should please stop and let us all go home.
Better still, if there was some visible and unobtrusive way to have the time in front of the speakers eyes, he could consistently check himself to ensure he sticks to his schedule.
Enter the countdown timer.
Why do I need it?
Because you want to be invited back and that means you want to stick to your time-frame. Most hosts, and fewer audiences, will appreciate speakers who aren't sensitive to time and go way over their scheduled speaking time.
What if I don't have a Countdown Timer?
Not all venues will have these, along with confidence monitors, these little gadgets are reserved for larger and more sophisticated speaking venues.
There are however, two or three easy ways to work around this problem.
Some of the best remotes for PowerPoint or keynote have a built in digital clock that can act as a countdown timer. Even fancier models, like the Logitech Wireless Presenter, has a vibrating alert that will softly vibrate in your hand when you have 5, or 10 minutes left, depending on what you set the alarm at. Yes, that is amazingly cool and convenient, so if you're a regular public speaker, buy one.
- Ask someone in the back of the audience to help
It's easy enough for a friend in the audience to lift up a piece of paper with "10 minutes left" or "wrap it up" written on it. You can use color coded paper as well (yellow for 5 minutes left, red for 1 minute, etc.)
- Use your own watch
If you're smart enough to glance at the watch before you commence the stage you can always do the math yourself, but this is exactly the kind of thing I usually don't want to do on stage.
Since all my mental capacities are engaged in delivering a stunning blow-away presentation, I prefer to not glance at my watch or a clock at do mid-sentence subtraction to figure out where I'm at.