Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Eight

One of my Toastmasters clubs, Silicon Valley Storytellers, celebrated its seventh anniversary this evening with a story slam. Instead of the usual Toastmasters format of speeches, impromptu speaking, and evaluations, we had thirteen members give a five-minute (or less) story and voted on the best three. I volunteered to be timer.

The challenge for the timer is getting the storyteller to stop if they go over time. When we meet in a room, we use a bell and applause – the timer rings a bell starting at 5 minutes, and a few seconds later, everyone applauds. Even the most stubborn speaker takes the hint.

But on Zoom, things are not so easy. Zoom does a lot to keep feedback and noise from happening – one of those things is reducing the output volume for anyone who’s speaking (at least if they’re not using headphones). So when we did a dry run, we discovered that the speaker could not hear me applaud if they were speaking!

So we used the nuclear option. I used colored backgrounds to give the speaker time cues at 4, 4-1/2, and 5 minutes; if the speaker didn’t stop talking within a few seconds past the 5 minute mark, I muted them. I only had to mute one speaker (the first) – after that, people watched for the red signal and stopped quickly.

There were a couple of other technical issues (one person muted herself just as she was getting to her punchline, and someone had to call in because her computer microphone refused to cooperate), but things went relatively smoothly, and the stories were interesting. Some might even have been true!

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