There is nothing so annoying as a conference running late. It irritates the attendees, who then will go home on a negative sentiment; no matter how great the programme was. Furthermore it has a negative effect on the succes of the meeting, because running late leaves less time for reflection, harvesting and implementation.
How can we make sure, time is not our enemy? How can we make sure that – freely translated from the Rolling Stones’ song – ‘time is on our side’? There are some very simple solutions to this problem.
One Goal, One Mission
Most meeting-schedules are crammed from minute one to the last second. The meeting owner in most cases has many goals for the occasion, all to be targeted in this one day. The solution is as simple, as it is effective: limit the number of goals to ONE.
Then take a close look, to see if even this one goal can be achieved in one single day. Maybe it is too much for the attendees to be convinced there is a problem, define what exactly it is, find the solutions ánd work on actual implementation in just a few hours.
Maybe planning multiple events over a longer period of time in the end is more effective than trying to do it all at once. Maybe you should simply accept that your problem requires a longer, well planned process.
In essence, a series of truly effective meetings is to be preferred over one utterly useless session.
Restrain your urge to estimate everything from the positive side. Transferring 200 people from one breakout session to another, including toilet-stop and getting a drink, is simply asking for trouble. It is better to ‘blow some air’ into the schedule. Embrace the slow philosophy in terms of your events.
Cancel 20% of programme items: it will push you into making better choices when it comes to content and it will help you find time to really achieve things.
Nobody ever complained, when a meeting finished early. So, don’t hesitate to tell your guests drinks will be at 17.00, while planning to finish at 16.30. It will bring you the luxury of having the ten minutes extra time to spend, in case a programme-item turns out to be even more interesting then expected.
Focus On the Right Things
When a schedule crashes, it’s often the wrong things that are sacrificed to getting back on track. Already in the meeting design phase, the amount of time for interaction is cut down, and this gets reduced further everytime a speaker is added to the line-up. Just because this one Professor or top-manager ‘simply has to be on stage’, there suddenly is only five minutes left for Question & Answer; completely ridiculous, of course! Or breaks are brought back to 10 minutes for coffee or half an hour lunch, ignoring the importance of networking; an opportunity wasted!
That is why you need the guts to make choices. If there is a really good reason for scheduling the extra speaker, is it better to have no Q&A-time, then just five minutes… if you take your guests seriously? But even better: give the floor to the people in the room and skip one of the speakers. If you get to be really engaged as an attendee, if the event does end up running late this will be more acceptable than a speaker going over time.
And besides the interaction and networking, don’t forget to harvest. A truly effective meeting leads to clear, measurable results and action, and that needs time.
This at the very least means, planning enough time at the end of the day to summarize and take decisions. Running late earlier in the programme can not lead to forgetting about the harvesting.
Also during the course of the day, delegates need time to convert what they’ve seen, heard and experienced to their day-to-day reality. If you are shooed from one item planned too tight to another, you will not be able to proces and implement what you’ve learned. So once again: allow time, to reflect and settle.
Be (Not Too) Strict
By keeping to the schedule at one point, there’s room for running a bit late elsewhere. That’s why you need to constrain your speakers. Brief them clearly on what their role is and force them gently to stick to that. Too many speakers spend a large portion of their timeslot repeating what someone else already said. By briefing better and making speakers keep the timeframe, you prevent them taking too long.
On the other hand, you should allow yourself, your guests and your moderator to run late on occasion. If some speaker, discussion, workshop, panel, group-interaction, or whatever turns out to be crucial to the objective of the day, running late is a good option. If you are really enjoying something and you feel the importance of ‘the momentum’, you will be more then happy to put in the the extra time.
Find the Right Moderator
Not every moderator is a match with every format. One will feel very comfortable interviewing or hosting panels, others prefer debating or interacting with the attendees. That leads to a simple conclusion: the better the format suits you, the easier time-management will be for you; simply because you understand the format and you know what the meeting is all about, making decision on anything, including the schedule, is so much easier. Working with the right moderator therefore will automatically mean running late is avoided.
In conclusion, we can say that running late is not fair. Not to the meeting owner, who really wants to achieve something. Not to the attendees, who deserve a day well spent. And not to the meeting-moderator, who should be given the chance to be more then a time-obsessed dictator.
Taking time to do things is not the solution. It is giving time to things that will bring us to the next level.