For the Novice: My Time is Your Time

For the Novice: My Time is Your Time

How the time limits you learned as a club leader
hold value in your professional life.

By Merrill J. Davies, ACG

One of the lessons to be practiced in speech training is that of expressing a thought within a specific time,” says the Toastmasters Competent Communication manual. It’s too bad many speakers have never learned that. My husband was once asked to be the second speaker at an event that should have lasted about an hour. After an hour and 15 minutes, the first speaker was still in front of the audience. My husband quietly told the person in charge that he would come another time, packed up his projector and presentation materials and left, wondering if he was being rude.

Whose responsibility is it to make sure a program moves along in a timely fashion? When the program planner and the speaker work together, the program runs smoothly and the audience enjoys the presentation. When one does not take responsibility, the program can still work if the other one steps in and does his or her part. But when neither the program planner nor the speaker assumes responsibility for time management, it can become a disaster, as it did in my husbands case. Let’s look at it from both angles:

The Speaker
It’s an honor to be asked to speak to a group. You may have knowledge that can benefit others. Or you may have been invited because of your humor and ability to entertain. No matter why you were asked, always keep in mind that by attending and listening to you, the audience is giving up other activities. So respect the audience members’ time and the other presenters on the program.

In club meetings, Toastmasters always check the timing on speeches and the timer holds them accountable. You’ll find this practice of watching the clock useful in your professional presentations, too. Always ask how long the speech should last and then stay within those limits – better to leave them wanting more than to have them sighing! If necessary, ask your host to give some kind of signal when your time limit is close. If your host will not give a limit, determine the best timing for your audience’s needs and insist on adhering to it anyway. My husband asked the pastor of a small church where he was speaking how long the presentation should be, and the pastor said, “Oh, just take as long as you need! It’s okay.” If your host says that, don’t believe it; it’s not okay with the audience, and it’s not okay with other speakers on the program.

It’s a good idea to check in with the person who invited you to speak a few days before the speaking engagement, especially if you were invited several weeks or months in advance. A phone call or e-mail confirming the date and time can be invaluable. It is not uncommon to write down the wrong date or time, or learn that not every participant was notified of a program change.

On the day of the event, arrive in plenty of time to get oriented to the location, set up any equipment and consult with the program planner. If you’re using audio visuals, don’t assume that anything will be provided. If you need the host to provide any equipment (even an extension cord), or if you need the room set up in a special way, ask about it the day before. You may not be able to check out these needs at program time without delaying the program. 

The Program Planner
As a program planner your job is to ensure that the program moves along smoothly and that the needs of the audience and participants are respected. Your Toastmasters training should have prepared you for this. To start, you can decide beforehand how long the program should last and then plan the event in such a way that it begins and ends on time. You’re on the road to success when you contact your first speaker.

Determine the length of each presentation by the overall duration of your program and number of presenters, and consider meals and other matters that will require time. Then, when you invite your speakers, be sure to tell them exactly how long their speeches should be, so they can plan accordingly.

Also ask them to arrive at the event early. How many times have you been in a meeting where the audience is waiting for the first speaker to arrive? They probably weren’t Toastmasters meetings! Discuss equipment requirements with your speakers – remind them to set up early, and make clear what equipment they expect you to provide and whether you can do so. You can avoid problems by remembering how a Sergeant at Arms helps speakers to set up for a Toastmasters presentation.

If you have contacted speakers weeks or months in advance, be sure to confirm the engagement a week before the presentation. Keep in mind the way your club confirms meeting agendas in advance.

When the speakers arrive, it’s helpful to remember your timer’s training. Offer to work out a signal with your speaker that is inconspicuous and will allow time for that person to end the presentation gracefully. Most speakers will appreciate this. Be clear that you plan to allow only a specific amount of time.

Finally, don’t be afraid to take charge if a speaker doesn’t respect time limits. It’s acceptable to stand, thank the presenter and tell the audience that it’s time to move on to the next speaker. Remem-bering skills you’ve learned as a Toastmaster will help you to take control of the meeting and guide your speakers.

Different cultures and situations require that programs be adapted to meet the needs and expectations of the audience, but in all situations program planners and presenters must respect the fact that people have busy schedules and are often concerned about time. When my husband went to the event I mentioned in the beginning of this article, he missed an important meeting in order to make his presentation. If the other speaker or the program planner had used Toastmasters training and assumed responsibility for conducting the program in a timely manner, the incident could have been avoided. It is often said that time is money. If this is true, then we must spend one another’s time wisely and with consideration.

Merrill J. Davies, ACG, is a member of two clubs: the Rome Toastmasters and the Floyd Medical Center Toastmasters, both in Rome, Georgia. She is a retired English teacher and freelance writer. Reach her at