Monday, April 17, 2017

How the speech timer at Toastmasters club meetings could provide useful feedback rather than just warning signals – introducing the 21st Century Timing Cards

If you attend a Toastmasters International club meeting, you will hear the Timer describe his role. Along with using a stopwatch for timing, he (or she) silently signals the Speaker (or Table Topics Speaker, or Speech Evaluator) when they have reached three times:

A]  The minimum specified time (green).

B]  The middle of the time range (yellow).

C]  The maximum specified time (red).

This typically is done using the $ 2.50 flipbook of hand held 6” x 8” Timing Cards (Item 901), which simulate a traffic light. Some clubs instead have fancy manual light boxes like traffic lights, which you can buy for $130 at Amazon or on eBay, or even more expensive automatic timer-controller light boxes.

For example, for the eight five-to-seven minute speeches in the basic Competent Communication manual the green card is shown after five minutes, the yellow card is shown after six minutes, and the red card is shown after seven minutes. But why do we do this?

Toastmasters have been seduced by speech contests and traffic lights.

The rules for speech contests say that:

“Timers shall provide warning signals to the contestants, which shall be clearly visible to the speakers but not obvious to the audience.”

Traffic lights are such a powerful early 20th century idea that we forget to ask why the Timing Cards that simulate them also are being used in regular club meetings. Those warning signals are reasonable for the experienced speakers entering contests.

But they are insufficient for helping inexperienced speakers learn how to manage their time. Consider what might happen to an inexperienced, nervous speaker giving a five-to seven-minute speech. He walks up to the lectern and shakes the Toastmaster’s hand. Just before starting to speak he meant to push the start button for the stopwatch function on his wristwatch, but instead he either missed or hit it twice - so his stopwatch isn’t running. Now he doesn’t know how much time he has left. He’d like to have some feedback, but the Timer hasn’t been told how to do that before five minutes have passed (5/7 ths or 71% of the time). That is way too late, so that speaker justifiably feels both confused and misused. 

If you had a project manager that behaved as shown above, then you’d probably go to his boss and tell him that guy is demented and you don’t want to ever work with him again.

In a blog post on January 11, 2011 titled Timing lights for speakers, I discussed how we could make a progress bar light (as shown above) that would extend the traffic light idea to provide useful feedback once per minute, or more than twice as much as a traffic light. (That post was the fifth most popular one on this blog).

We can update the Timing Cards for the 21st century  to inexpensively provide the same feedback as a progress bar light. We will start with a black cover card followed by a series of four cards that display a white progress bar moving from left to right, as is shown above. Then come the green, yellow and red cards previously used. That prototype was made from poster board with white paper attached using two-sided tape. Tops of the cards were gang punched with four holes for 1” notebook rings. The card size was slightly enlarged to 7” x 9” to efficiently use up the 22” x 28” standard size for U.S. poster board. Elsewhere the A5 paper size might instead be used for cards. Materials for a set of these eight new cards will cost less than $5.    

As shown above, both lower corners of these 21st Century Timing Cards cards are beveled in ¼” steps so they are easy to flip over. (That modification is worth adding to your existing cards.)  

These new cards also can be held on an easel (like a miniature flipchart), as shown above. The vertical support is a 3/8” thick piece of 1-1/2” wide pine supporting a ¼” diameter wooden dowel rod. 

The sequence for using that series of eight 21st Century Timing Cards is shown above for a five-to-seven-minute speech.

For a four-to-six-minute Icebreaker speech, we just skip over the fifth all-white card, as shown above. 

For a one-to-two-minute Table Topics speech, or a two-to three-minute Speech Evaluation we also skip over the fifth all-white card and flip the black and white cards every quarter or half minute, as shown above.

I believe that these updated cards are a useful improvement for providing effective feedback to all speakers during club meetings. (They also give the Timer more useful work to do). Consider using them in your club, and tell me what you think. We can keep using the green-yellow-red warning signals just for speech contests.

The image of Taylor Reeh sitting behind a desk came from Wikimedia Commons


A follow-up post about comments at LinkedIn and my replies to them is here.

1 comment:

Cleon said...

Well done Dr. Garber.Cleon