Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How the speech timer at Toastmasters club meetings could provide useful feedback – comments and replies

On April 17th I blogged about How the speech timer at Toastmasters club meetings could provide useful feedback rather than just warning signals – introducing the 21st Century Timing Cards. How they would be used for a 5 to 7 minute speech is shown above.

I only received one comment on this blog. Cleon Cox, III from the Portland, Oregon area just said:

Well done Dr. Garber.”

Cleon runs the Job Finders Support Group, and is a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).  

On April 18th I pointed to that post at The Official Toastmasters International Group on LinkedIn. There were another nine comments made there (cut into paragraphs for readability), which I will share with you here along with my replies to them.


Mike Rafferty, DTM:

There are many other speech lengths besides 5-7 and 4-6 minutes, even in just the CC manual. Sounds overly complicated for something that can be very simple.


Mike: Yes, doing something useful is just slightly more complicated than doing something that’s almost useless.

For the CC manual the only other speech length just is 8 to 10 minutes for Project 10, Inspire Your Audience. It is easily handled just by changing the interval between cards to 2 minutes rather than one minute (and otherwise doing it like the Icebreaker).

Using a two-minute interval also would cover the 8 to 10 and 10 to 12 minute speeches in the Speeches by Management Manual. For the last 12 to 15 minute one, the interval between cards would have to be increased to 3 minutes.

For the Storytelling manual the 7 to 9 minute speeches for the first and fifth projects are a slight problem. There we might use a two-minute interval and display three progress cards before the green at seven minutes. If the Timer explains what he will be doing, then the Speaker shouldn’t be confused.


Teri McDonald, DTM:

Paper is not 21st century. Even though your method gives feedback every minute, it feels an archaic in the digital age. There are great digital tools available for free. I like Timer4TM.


Teri: When the battery on your Android smartphone dies (or catches on fire), it becomes just a dumb brick. You ALWAYS need to have a backup, like Timing Cards. And my method gives feedback at least three times before the green card, not just once per minute. For Table Topics it is every quarter minute, and for Evaluations it is every half minute.


Tim Ramage:

It's an interesting idea. It is nice to have feedback prior to the minimum threshold. Timing of a speech comes down to preparation. A speaker, especially a beginning speaker, should have already prepared to the point that the speech timing is solidified prior to presenting it.

Preparation is a cornerstone of Toastmasters and mentors should be sending that message consistently to their mentees. By the time the green card appears, the prepared speaker knows the material well enough to have a solid idea how to wrap up. That includes beginning speakers. Of course nervousness can derail preparation and timing, but the idea behind preparation is to help assuage the natural nervousness. Provided the club provides a supportive environment, going over time isn't a sin...it is something to learn from and improve for the next speech.


“Story Gordon” Hill:

We use a light system and have considered adding a fourth light, a lightning bolt, that is also wired to a speaker's ankle as a terminal reminder, "You're done!" :-D

Gordon: In auto racing there is a Black Flag that means get off the track and go to the pits.
I blogged about it back in 2011. A black timing card (the cover) would tell a speaker that he is so over.


Cliff Milligan, DTM:

Sounds like you are trying to compensate for poor preparation. If you've actually practiced your speech you should know where you are supposed to be at the Green, Yellow and Red markers. If you go over by 45 seconds it isn't the end of the world.

I don't want or need someone tracking every minute of my speech. Sounds like a helicopter parent to me. Speakers should be prepared to cut their speech short if they are running long. We had a new member do their Ice Breaker last meeting and when they were finished with their material they still hadn't hit the Green. I had worked with them beforehand and though the speech could be short and suggested having another section to add if the Green hadn't appeared yet. That is known as good preparation and working with their mentor.

In some of the advanced manuals you have 40 minute speeches. Seems to me like you would need a 5" binder to hold all the various permutations of your card displaying.

REPLY (in two parts)

Cliff's example with an Icebreaker speech illustrates the problem with lack of feedback that I'm trying to solve with these revised Timing Cards. A nervous speaker will be faster in the club than in his rehearsals. If he had those three points of feedback before getting to the Green warning signal, then he might have slowed down. (And I think he meant to say thought rather than though).

I said the Timer could provide useful feedback. If you DTMs don't need it, then just tell him to stay with the old Timing Card format, which we also might call Speech Contest Mode. Go look up the Fact Sheet from July 2015 to June 2016. The annual retention rate of Toastmasters members was only 55.4%. That means that if you started out with 25 members in a club you kept 14 but lost (and then hopefully replaced) 11. That's a lot of new members. Some of them will be nervous and inexperienced.

Cliff: No, you would not need a 5" binder to hold all the various permutations of the cards. It would take less than 20 pages to list all 85 manual speeches (plus Table Topics). Look at the lists from the Boston and Dallas Sunrise clubs.

The rules for displaying either three or four black & white progress cards coming before the Green card can be compactly stated in the following format.
Time to Green card (minutes):[time between progress cards(minutes)].
Here is the list for almost all of them 1:[1/4]. 2:[1/2]. 3:[3/4]. 4 and 5:[1]. 6, 7, and 8:[1-1/2]. 10:[2]. 12 and 15:[3]. 19, 20 and 22:[4]. 26:[5]. 28 and 31:[6].
The fifth project for Specialty Speeches, Introduce the Speaker, has the whole meeting as a time limit. If that was an hour, then it would be 60:[12].


“Story Gordon” Hill:

My goal is to finish in the middle (one minute to go). It gives those who go long some time.


David Lewtas:

If it ain't broke, don't fix (re-fix) it! This topic sounds like someone is bored and trying to create an answer when there really is no question.

Sure, the digital age has been foisted upon us, but that should not automatically take over everything. Many young people don't know how to WRITE their name, and for some people's, it is not readible in any manner of interpretation. Shame on them! Why isn't cursive handwriting taught in many schools?

Back to the digital question: Many people are ADDICTED to their "phones" for all their records and information. Then they cry when it's lost, with no hard-copy back up on phone numbers, etc. Many drive like maniacs when looking at them and they kill innocents. That is mis-usage of course.

Yes, if you need more timing signals, forget it; just LOOK at the timer lights or cards as you are supposed to.


David: The topic of my post was cardboard cards – not anything remotely digital. Your comment sounds like a bad parody of a Table Topics answer. Was this rambling rant REALLY the best you could do after over FIFTY YEARS in Toastmasters? So Sad!

I’m going back to YouTube to watch Carrie Newcomer perform Don’t Push Send.


Kelly Ellenz:

I always wish we had an option of a display timer, like they have at Ted Talks. Those first speeches, I was a person who spoke much faster presenting than practicing, And waiting for the green card actually gave me MORE anxiety. Now a 5-7 minute speech is a breeze, and I give them with 1-2 practice runthroughd. And can adapt on the fly. So, while I do agree this can be coddling. I think many new members neeed a little coddling. Speaking alone is a lot, then having an evaluator, time, ah counter, etc., it all compounds the stress. I think working toward more blind timing over time is a good goal. Most professional speakers get X minute warnings near the end. But when you're first starting out, why not eliminate unnecessary stress, and work on improving the most important parts of speaking - speak clearly, stay within time, eliminate filler words, etc. and all of this can be done with a timer shown or more warning cards.

Of course, speakers who want to compete would want to pass.

Leslie Alvarado:

Oh my goodness David Lewtas, I was just so sure you were going to end your comment with, "AND GET OFF MY LAWN!!!"  Richard Garber, I agree this would be very helpful for us newbies. I just gave my second speech two weeks ago, and it felt like an eternity to get to the 5 minute mark. I thought the timekeeper had lost track, which I've seen happen before. It was definitely a distraction.



It is useful to think of the added feedback from these 21st Century Timing Cards in analogy with training wheels on a bicycle. They can be very helpful for beginners, but not needed by those with more experience.

Cliff Milligan claimed that if you practiced your speech, then you should know where you are supposed to be when you get to the warning signals. So did Tim Ramage.

Conversely if you have not been able to practice your speech, then you should not know where you are. But I also showed the cards being used for the impromptu Table Topics and speech Evaluations, both of which are done without practice. 

Mike Rafferty and Cliff Milligan had complained that I was making things complicated. If I had wanted to, then I would have called for there to always be four progress cards spaced equally before the green card. Their spacing in minutes just would have been the time for the green card divided by five. So, for a four-minute speech the spacing would have been 4/5 minute or 48 seconds, and the cards would be shown at 0:48, 1:36, 2:24 and 3:12. For a seven-minute speech the spacing would have been 1.4 minutes, with cards shown at 1:24, 2:48, 4:12, and 5:56.

The image of a bicycle with training wheels is from Wikimedia Commons, and the gears are a colorized version of an image from Openclipart.

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