Staying within time

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I attended a conference recently where I was able to participate in several paper sessions. Each speaker had an alotted amount of time he was to speak and also a few minutes afterwards for answering questions. To help each speaker stay within their time limit, a handful of people sat in the front row, each holding a sheet of paper with a number written on it. As time passed, a person would hold up their piece of paper indicating how much time the speaker had remaining. Even with the time assistance, several of the speakers still exceeded their time limit. One speaker iwas particularly persistent, and ignored the final sheet which informed him that his time was up. He continued to press forward. The time keeper gave him another minute and then again, raised the paper. The speaker continued speaking, but it was obvious he had seen the paper and knew his time was up. A third time the paper went up and the speaker, stopping in mid-sentence, blurted out

“Uh… do you want me to finish this?”

To this, the timekeeper had but one option for response (unless he wanted to be rude) which of course was, “sure, go ahead and finish.” A few minutes later the man finished and the conference continued on its way.

I, however, was still stuck on the speakers question and personally took a little issue it. The man had the same amount of time to present his research as everyone else, and the limited time was not a surprise to him. The truth is, yes, I wanted him to finish presenting his research, but I wanted him to finish 5 minutes ago.

I’m not trying to be harsh towards this one researcher. It’s just that the issue of time has been on my mind lately, and I’ve realized that in general we really struggle with it. I think part of the problem is that we find our thoughts and ideas so interesting that we become very oblivious to the fact that not everyone else is as gung-ho as we are. In truth, I believe it is very rare to find other people who’s interest matches our enthusiasm.

I think we would benefit from not trying to cram as much as possible into the limited time we have to deliver speeches and instead focus on simplifying our messages.