One of the cardinal rules of stand-up comedy is to never go over your time and the same concept should apply to end meetings. If you are told you’ve got 5 minutes on stage, then you have 5 minutes. Not 6 minutes, not even 5 1/2 – it means you have 300 seconds and other comedians will keep you honest. If you schedule a 30 minute meeting at work, make sure you wrap up and end meeting at 30 minutes.
It seems like every meeting I’m in goes long because one topic took more time than it was supposed to according to the agenda (and you should have an agenda). There are times when it’s “necessary” to go long and delay other things, but most of the time it’s the result of someone talking too much. To me, even “necessary” discussions should be parked (put in the “parking lot” to be discussed in a follow-up meeting) until the appropriate time (i.e. when you’re not delaying a meeting).
I’ve noticed that this is especially irritating if I’m either the agenda owner for the meeting, or have an agenda topic. Going over your time is a sign of disrespect saying “I don’t care what else we have to cover in the rest of this meeting, what I have to say is more important.” What makes it “fun” is that some (often?) times the person delaying everything is the senior person at the meeting.
So what can we do about these long-winded talkers delaying our meetings? Here are some techniques from the stand-up comedy world to end meetings and end presentations on time:
Make it clear how much time they have
Let everyone (especially the presenters) know how much time has been allotted for the current topic before they begin. To make this a little more fun, you could connect the time allotments to your team members favorite songs. Ask them for their favorite songs before the meeting and then say, “Ok, your time allotment is 2 Beatles songs today.”
Have a Signal for End Meeting
Decide, before-hand, how you are going to signal to the person that they need to wrap up. In stand-up, the common practice is to use a flashlight at the back of the room. If the comedian gets 15 minutes of stage time, they get a light with 5 minutes remaining, and then again with 1 minute. Tell the presenters what your signal will be and when you will give it to them (e.g. “2 minutes left”).
Stick to your Rules
Be willing to stop people when they’ve gone over their time. Comedians generally get a grace period of 30 seconds to 1 minute. After that, the sound guy cuts the mic. You won’t always have a mic, or control of it, so just speak up and move the meeting along (yes it’s rude to interrupt, but it’s also rude to go over your time).
Being Firm to End Meetings does not mean Being Impolite
One important thing to keep in mind is that being firm doesn’t mean being impolite. As long as everyone is clear of the expectations up front, and you approach this in a nice manner, most people will appreciate that you value their time and end meetings on schedule. It’s also smart to note the topics that you cut off, and review them at the end of the meeting suggesting follow up discussions should take place to adequately cover them.
And if this terrifies you, don’t worry. You’ll only have to do it once or twice before Pavlov takes over and everyone knows that they must end meetings on time. Not only does this make your job easier, but people learn to truly respect the time on the agenda, and you for running efficient meetings.