The Five Minute Rule

Sep 17

How long does it take after the meeting starts before your prepared speaker begins? How long after the first opening sound of a conference keynote before the keynote speaker begins talking? How long after a speech contest opens before the first contestant begins?

IMHO, five minutes should be a hard and fast maximum. In my experience, however, often it climbs up to 15 minutes if not longer. People don’t like to be kept waiting, shifting in their seat, waiting for the main performance to begin.

Five minutes is a maximum, not a minimum. You want to get to your main content speakers fast, both to benefit the audience and for the same reasons prepared speakers should always go before impromptu. Faster is generally better, and any delay should be carefully scrutinized. Does your Toastmaster need a two minute introduction, or will a 30 second one do? Can those announcements be made midway through the program instead of at the beginning?

Let’s go over some examples of how this could work in practice.

In a Speechcraft workshop I ran, I would have a very brief opening reminding them of what we worked on the previous week and what we would work on that week, and any changes to the order of speakers. We had a humorous public speaking quotation and a very short presentation by one of the Toastmasters on an embarrassing public speaking mistake. Then we dove immediately into the presentations. Impromptu speaking practice, lectures, public speaking workshops and other announcements and discussion could wait. Why didn’t we trim this down even further? The embarrassing story and the funny quotation were designed to help our students, our speakers relax and understand they didn’t have to be perfect before they got up to speak, so that had immediate and urgent value in coming first.

In a conference keynote, you might have some grand musical and animated spectacular intro to catch people’s eyes. Often, IMHO, these drag on for too long. Catch people’s interest, then get to the good stuff! Don’t drag it on and on until people get tired of the spectacle. Then you might have a quick introduction for the emcee, or the emcee introducing the speaker, or starting with a few startling facts about progress made since the last conference, and get to the keynote ASAP. If people are talking for more than a minute or two, what they’re saying could likely be eliminated or moved to a later part of the program. Get to the good stuff!

In a contest, go through the bare minimum announcements necessary. Perhaps a brief introduction for the contest Toastmaster, then the Toastmaster tells the audience the least they need to know to get started: the order of the contestants, please silence your cell phones, etc. Then dive right in. Non-urgent details can be included in the contest program, eliminated completely, or pushed to later. The audience should not have time to get bored after the contest opens before the first contestant starts speaking.

In a Toastmasters meeting, you might open the meeting, optionally start with an inspirational thought and/or joke and/or educational tip and/or word of the day, introduce guests and provide some explanation for guests of the meeting format (although ideally this will have been discussed with them individually beforehand, or printed out, or someone sitting next to them will guide them). Then dive into the prepared speeches! Have club business? Announcements about upcoming events? Discuss it midway through or at the end of the program.

Get to the good stuff! If you start paying attention to the clock, you might be amazed by how much time is spent waiting to get to the core part of the event in question: the presenters.

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