Start on Time

Sep 17

“We’ll wait a few more minutes for more people to show up before we start the meeting.”
“This meeting is now called to order. Now we will recess for five minutes while we prepare to begin.”
“Oh, we just list that as our start time so that people show up in time for our real start time, which is 15 minutes later”

Do these phrases sound familiar?

It’s common to think “it’s only a few minutes. We’re not ready yet.”

There are a number of problems with this approach. It seems unprofessional and disorganized. That is not a way to entice guests to join your Toastmasters club. And for any sort of meeting, in any setting, all you are doing is punishing the punctual and rewarding the tardy. You are training people to think “don’t bother showing up on time–they never start on time. It’s better to be late.”

Start on time. Teach people that the meeting is ready, whether or not they are. Go with the people you have and do what you can. Missing a key player? Continue as if they didn’t show up (because they may not) and then, if and when they do show, feel free to re-integrate them into the program or not as you choose.

This is not to belittle people who are late. Traffic, a lack of babysitters, a previous meeting that ran over, there are many legitimate reasons to be late. It is certainly better that someone comes in five minutes late, or even halfway through the meeting, than not at all. But all the other people in the room should not be forced to wait on them.

You may or may not need to do parts of the meeting in a slightly different order than you expected. Topicsmaster not there? Get a different Topicsmaster. Your area governor wanted to talk about some district incentives at the start of the meeting, but they’re late? Move it to the end of the meeting. Your first prepared speaker is late? Now they’re your third speaker, your second speaker is now first, and your third speaker is now second.

The one exception I would make is if starting on time would interfere with a content speaker’s presentation. Not the president’s intro or emcee’s announcements. Your keynote speaker in a conference, your prepared speaker in a Toastmasters meeting, your contestants in a contest. Perhaps the sound system isn’t working and it’s a huge room. Perhaps you need to rearrange some objects and electronics on stage and doing so while a speaker is talking would be highly distracting. In such extreme situations the lesser of two evils is to have a brief delay while matters are arranged—although of course, far better would have been to prepare all that ahead of time. On the other hand, it is better to interfere with or delay minor announcements than to keep people waiting for the event to start.

If you have 20 people in your audience, and you keep them waiting 5 minutes, you have wasted 100 minutes. Be professional. Start on time.

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