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Here is the context:

When you are on stage and make people operate just for a few seconds on your time while they pay rapt attention waiting for you to say something, it creates an air of anticipation.

I have checked all the meaning of operate, but only have a vague idea of what that could mean.

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The word is being used very broadly and vaguely there; the meaning is "to function".

The "rapt" audience forgets themselves and awaits your words. You decide when to speak, in your own good time, which creates "an air of anticipation", that is, puts the audience on the edges of their seats, as the saying goes.

The person on stage "sets the tempo".

P.S. The phrase on my time means "according to what suits my schedule".

I can help you move into a new apartment this weekend, but it will have to be on my time. I have some prior obligations.

That would be spoken "on MY time", the word my receiving emphasis. So on your time in this particular context would be "according to your desired pace or timing".

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  • I like your simplification: The person on stage "sets the tempo" but ... is correct the use of "operate/function on your time"? It sounds very awkward to my foreign ears if I try to translate it. Is it a common expression to function on somebody's time?
    – RubioRic
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 15:41
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    There is a phrase to operate on a schedule which I think might lie behind this mechanistic phrase. google.com/…
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 15:55
  • I can't really get what "on" means there. Does it mean that someone makes people to operate for a few seconds of the time that you given to make a speech? Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 17:18
  • I think it's a somewhat "quirky" usage, but I did find a handful of written instances of operate on your time. It's pretty much the same as to dance to someone's tune - but in OP's exact context that might not quite work, since the expectant audience probably aren't moving at all (they're just sitting and waiting, patiently or otherwise). Another related usage is to have [the audience] at one's beck and call. Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 17:31
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    Dymtro, consider "The train runs on schedule". on = according to. Or I can help her move into a new apartment, but we will have to do it on my time. That is, "according to what fits with my own schedule".
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 17:57

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