One of the skills Toastmasters teaches is the importance of time. Meeting agendas typically specify start and end times, as well as the times for agenda items such as Table Topics, prepared speeches and the weekly business meeting. Every speaker–whether prepared, impromptu or evaluator–is timed as well. Why such a fuss over time?
Fundamentally, showing respect for time is showing respect for the people around you. Blatantly ignoring time constraints is a sign of selfishness. If you are late for a meeting, causing the other attendees to wait for you, you are saying that you do not value the time and effort of the others. During a meeting, if you have an allotted time for your part, going over that allotment throws the entire agenda off and guarantees that someone else will not have time for their contribution to the meeting.
As for speakers, it is an age-old truism that if you speak too long the only thing the audience will remember is that you spoke too long. In graduate school we used to have weekly seminars on Friday afternoons at 4:00. Needless to say, everyone expected the seminar to end promptly at 5:00. One professor’s wife would park outside the open windows of the seminar hall (no air conditioning) and start honking her car horn promptly at 5:05. Sad to say, the excitement caused by the professor’s wife was generally more memorable than the words the speaker had thrown at us for the previous hour. No matter how hard you work to craft a winning presentation, if you talk even a few minutes too long that breach of etiquette will be all that you will be remembered for. All your hard work will have been wasted.
Speakers in Toastmasters are timed with a traffic light system. Typically the green light comes on at your minimum time, the red at your maximum time and the yellow halfway between the two. For a nominal five to seven minute talk, the speaker sees green at five minutes, yellow at six minutes and red at seven minutes. Timing is strictly observed during contests, but is optional during regular meetings. In some clubs, for example, the speakers are timed but there are no consequences for missing their timing. In contrast, in other clubs speakers are not eligible for awards if they miss their timing marks. Regardless of whether timing rules are enforced in your club, you owe it to the Toastmaster of the Day and the other attendees to stay as close as possible to your alloted time.
When you rehearse your speech (you do practice, don’t you?) you can use computer software to create the same timed light pattern that you will face during your talk. Google “Toastmaster timer software” for several different software packages or go to http://www.toastmasters.org/software for several different download options.
Remember, staying on time is your responsibility, regardless of the role you play in the meeting. By observing the time constraints of the meeting, you keep the agenda on schedule and demonstrate your respect for your fellow Toastmasters.