Why Good Timing Matters

Johnny Carson was a master of timing. He knew when his jokes would generate a belly laugh and when they would fall flat. His genius was never to let any joke go unrewarded with a laugh, even if he had to die on stage to earn it.

Johnny Carson was a master of timing. He knew when his jokes would generate a belly laugh and when they would fall flat. His genius was never to let any joke go unrewarded with a laugh, even if he had to die on stage to earn it.

George Washington lost more battles than any U.S. general in history, but his seminal contribution to successful warfare was knowing how to avoid losing a war. You could say Washington understood the value of good timing.

Muhammed Ali was the inventor of rope-a-dope boxing, where you let your muscular opponent punch himself out while you danced around or fended off blows on the ropes.

The best comedians understand timing is the cornerstone of comedy. Public affairs is all about timing, too.

There is no formula for timing. It is more knack than science. Johnny Carson showed that even a bad joke could have a happy ending if you knew how to “die” on stage.

Perhaps the key to good timing is picking your spot. Move too soon and you risk utter failure. Wait too long and you miss your window of opportunity.

Timing is not the same as waiting or dithering. Sometimes the right time is sooner than later. You never know when the most propitious timing is unless you consider the options.

The secret to good timing is assessing the best timing. That means you can’t be hiding in a closet or trying to sweep an issue under a rug. You are actively trying to find your moment, then acting in the moment.

Washington came to realize that the British had to win and all he had to do was not lose.

Ali recognized that he couldn’t punch his way to victory, but he could let his opponent sucker-punch himself to defeat.

Carson understood that even a bad joke could produce a hilarious uproar if you played it right.

There are many ways to take advantage of time. The right way is the way you win, not lose. You will never know what way that is without weighing the options.

If the knack of good timing is what wins, then the science behind knocking is knowing when to pass, when to hold or when to play. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.