First Time as a Timekeeper for Toastmaster

Ever being in the role as a timekeeper in one of the Toastmaster meeting for the first time? Well, I just been through it and learned some great insights. The learning experience: excellent.

If you’re a Toastmaster that is tasked to be time tracker, chances are, you’re probably doing some research now. I can share my experience with you and some hurdles I made.

1) Read Up The R&R

You can start off by reading through your competitive leadership handbook to get some idea of time management. Your no.1 priority is to ensure the meeting agenda executed as planned, according to the time given. Hence, if it is scheduled to end at 12.35pm, it should end at 12.35pm. Nothing more.

Important Note:
Toastmaster values timing as priority no.1, next to quality. (Which I’ll explain in my case study). That said, Your role has a great impact for the club, especially, giving the first impression for the club guests.

2) Read the Agenda Ahead of Time

Reading the agenda ahead of time gives you a full picture on what to track. Then, you can produce a table of time tracking, something like this:

Time tracking Sheet

This sheet is useful for tracking the entire meeting using start time and period. Usually, the club provides stopwatches for tracking time. Your job is to calculate the total time spent (the very far right corner) and report them out at the end of the meeting.

3) Work out the Signal Timeline

The club usually provides you three flags: the green, the orange and the red, like a traffic light. Some provide colored light switches instead of using flags.

These flags are for you to give the correct signal the speaker. A green flag indicates the speech is long enough for acceptance; an orange flag indicates time for closure while the red flag indicates the time is up. Depending on the club, some requires you to ring the buzzer (your ultimate tool to control time) if the speaker continues to speak after the red flag is raised for more than 30 seconds.

Hence, that said, the timing for any speech begins until a green flag is up and close when a yellow flag is up.

As for timing, after researching some toastmaster resources [1][2] and some observation from the on-going club execution, I gathered the data that looks something like this:

Timing to Raise The Flags

The catch is quite simple: most of the speeches (observe 5 min speech, prepared speech, grammarian and general evaluation report), raise the green flag when there are 2 minutes left; raise the yellow flag when there is 1 minute left.

The unique cases are 2-min speech and prepared speech evaluation (observe ah-counter report and “2-minute speech” and “prepared speech evaluation”). When there is 1 minute left, raise the green flag. When there are 30 seconds left, raise the yellow flag.

For all cases, the red flag is raised when the time is up. If the speaker continues to speak for more than 30 seconds, you can ring the buzzer.

However, the above are tied closely to my club. Hence, it’s best to work with your Toastmaster of the Day/Evening and your Sargent-In-Arms to get the correct timing for each flag.

4) Prepare Your Role Speech

With all items in place, now is to prepare your role introduction speech for your Toastmaster of the Day to introduce you in the meeting. The contents should focus on your role and responsibility.

For this speech, however, my advice would be avoiding overly prepared to accommodate some last minute out-of-your-control changes. A good speech from my first experience sounds something like this:

Thank you, Toastmaster of the Day, CC Edition Chow!
My role as a time-keeper is to remind our speakers about the time spent and the remaining time for his/her speech throughout the meeting.
I’ll raise the GREEN light, seen here when your speech is long enough for acceptance. No light, speaks more. For Table topic, it’s 1 min. As for prepared speech, it is two mins before your project time limit.
I’ll raise the YELLOW light, seen here, indicates time is almost up and prepare for closure. For table topic, it is 30-second remaining. As for prepared speech, you have 1 min left.
I’ll raise the RED light, seen here, indicates that time is up and please close the topic. I’ll be happily ringing the buzzer continuously, like this, if the speech goes beyond 30 seconds. For table topic, it is exactly 2 min. As for prepared speech, it is exactly on your respective project time limit.
For other roles, your allocated time is mentioned inside the agenda.
At the end of the meeting, I’ll present my report for everyone. Now, please, enjoy today’s meeting. Back to you, Edison!

At the end of the meeting, after applying some great insights from my general evaluator of the day, Eddie, I believe a good 2-min speech sounds something like this:

Thank you general evaluator, <rank> <name>. This is my time report:
Our meeting begins at <time>, <on-time/late>.
President welcome speech, <time period taken>;
Toastmaster of the Day, <time period taken>;
Go with the flow starts at <time>, on-time/late;
<name>, <time period taken>;
<name>, <time period taken>;

This style will help you to deliver your report within the 2-minute time-bound. I’m still working out some tricks for mentioning toastmaster name with ranks, especially those with a double or triple crown.

After some feedback from my mentor, as a norm, you aren’t allowed to spell the rank abbreviation. You’re supposed to speak them out. Example, ‘Distinguish Toastmaster Alice’ instead of ‘DTM Alice’. However, by doing so, chances are, your speech is going to exceed the 2-minute limit. Therefore, it’s best to work out a strategic way to address the speaker correctly without breaking the norm.

5) Cross-check with Your Toastmaster of the Day Before The Meeting Starts

It is better to cross-check with your committee for picking up any last minute changes before the meeting begins. In my case, I was given a challenge by my president not to use the buzzer but instead, use the TRIPLE flags as a replacement.

As mentioned earlier, avoid overly prepared for your introduction speech because sometimes, you might be ended up with the changes I had above. I made a mistake by forgetting to mention such changes in my earlier speech. Hence, it made all my speech evaluators confused and disappointed due to time disqualifications. I’ll elaborate more in the “case study” section.

6) Track the time and enjoy your role!

To be honest, this is the easiest role next to Ah Counter. Enjoy paying attention to time and workout your report speech simultaneously throughout the meeting.

In the case of extra time, it’s better to focus on allocated time (10 min) than scheduled time (10.00am). Somehow, ending the meeting earlier is favorable. =)

Case Study: Buzzer vs. Triple Flag Indicator

I can understand why my president gave me that challenge, one of them is to stimulate my critical thinking.

I began experimenting the triple flag for my speech evaluators’ timing as I firmly believe that feedbacks should be delivered in a respectful, uninterrupted, time-forgiving manner. Hence, due the disruptive nature of the buzzer, I applied the visual triple-flag indicator for them. As for the regular table topic speech and prepared speech, I still use the buzzer to stop the overtime speaker.

The result: all my speech evaluators on the day are very engaging and active to improve our speakers, but all of them are overtime. Their feedbacks: the triple-flag indicator is not visible enough, and the buzzer is much better signal compared to visual. (Guys, I’m sorry about that.)

As my general evaluator understand my scenario, he explained to me about the club priorities: Aspect of time is always number 1 priority while the aspect of quality, is second to that. The reason being that it is always the speaker’s responsibility to manage their speech timing, including evaluator.

He also elaborated that it has a significant impact on club image, like first-impression for new guests. Hence, it’s better to use the buzzer to stop the speaker, sharply, instead of the triple light flag. However, he did remark that it is solely the club decision on whether to use triple flag or buzzer.

After spending some time observing the after-meeting, I witnessed:

  1. If there are a lot of feedbacks, they can be delivered offline after the meeting.
  2. If the club image is impacted, it is harder to recover compared to item (1). It involves more marketing efforts and pulling more people back to the club to rebuild the integrity.
  3. The evaluator should know what points to be delivered on-time and others offline. Even in international competition, no matter how good the evaluations are, if it is overtime, it is disqualified and gone.

Hence, from my case study, my thought changed as:

  1. I retain my belief for respectful, uninterrupted feedback delivery.
  2. The buzzer is more disruptive than triple-flag.
  3. Timekeeper should prioritize time, including evaluator, although their role can grow other members. (Don’t worry, they know what to do).