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July 2024
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Toastmasters and Physics

Time flies … or doesn’t, depending on how you look at it.

By Mervin Bierman, DTM


I have always admired theoretical physicists. As the American television series The Big Bang Theory shows us, they have a lot going for them. Attractive, smart people seem to be drawn to the geekiest of the group. Universities throw buckets of money in their direction for ideas that can never be proven, make only limited sense to the layperson, can only be explained by a handful of people, and understood by even fewer. What a life!

Regardless, at least one principle of modern physics is easily demonstrated within Toastmasters—time dilation (TD). Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity holds that clocks are seen to be running more slowly or more quickly depending on the observer’s orientation. Everyone has experienced TD in one form or another. A child awaiting a birthday or holiday experiences an apparent slowing of time. Meanwhile, an adult at a job interview is convinced they just sat down when the interviewer says, “Thanks, that’s all the time we have.”

Why should this be and why should TD have such an effect? Moving through the Toastmasters year at what appears to be an ever-increasing pace, we find it all too easy to be distracted from our primary objective. That is, we take time away from the end goal to chase other “goals.” Sometimes the short-term goals are important or necessary and sometimes, not so much.

Time dilation observation flows neatly into Toastmasters. For example, you suddenly realize you only have a week to prepare a five- to seven-
minute speech. You knew three months ago, but life interfered. That deadline at work was compounded by the flat tire on the car that would not start. Add on the weird clanking sound coming from someplace deep in the freezer, that odd brown stain on the ceiling of the living room, all topped off by the pleasant note on the door saying the local police would like to talk to you about a scratch on someone else’s car. Suddenly it is the evening of your Toastmasters meeting. You are pulling into the parking lot when you deduce that you have not even read the objectives you are trying to achieve with this speech. Bang! Positive TD—time moving faster—strikes.

In the opposite case, you have worked hard on your humorous speech, just in time for contest season. Everyone loves the talk, even the cat who has had to listen to the presentation 24 times. You race to the front of the room when the contest chair calls your name, you shake hands, you turn, and you crush it! You glance up to see the yellow light turning red just as you say, “Madam contest chair.” This one is in the bag. The chief judge and the ballot counters file out of the room, and all is well.

Time dilation observation flows neatly into Toastmasters. For example, you suddenly realize you only have a week to prepare a five- to seven-minute speech.

But wait, the chief judge is back. She is talking to various members of the audience, who all get out of their seats and follow her out of the room. This couldn’t be for you, could it? Did you read the timing light wrong? When did the clock on the wall stop? This has been way longer than expected. And all you can do is wait. Welcome to the world of negative TD—time slowing down.

So what’s the solution? Isn’t this where I am supposed to expose the magic secret of defeating TD? Do I provide tips for how to ensure time flows exactly as you anticipated: steady, measured, predictable? Well, here is some good news and some bad news. True time dilation is a measurable, provable phenomenon and unless you are exposed to an unusual environment (say, moving at 97% the speed of light), it is unlikely to appear in your daily life. But, but, but; I hear one of the three remaining readers exclaim. These articles are supposed to help make us all better Toastmasters! Where is the answer?

And that, my friends, is time management. And an article for another day.


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