Getting groups’ attention after a break has always been a challenge. Whether in school, executive seminars, or training sessions, the meeting management issue is the same. People quickly disperse to check their phones, follow up on emails, squeeze in a quick conversation, or get some fresh air. Back in the day, before everyone had a phone/computer in their purse or pocket, we could typically gather people from the bank of pay phones at the training center. Now you may find your group has run to their car or office and is nowhere in sight. How can you get your group to start or come back on time?
When originally published, we offered 7 time management tips for meetings and training. However, I’ve updated the post to include the wisdom shared at our Trainers Warehouse Show & Share [thanks to all the contributors!]
Start on Time: Starting on time is the #1 strategy recommended by the team. By starting when you say you’re going to start (or within a minute of that), you’ll set expectations and reinforce that start times aren’t flexible. Refer to the motto: “Early is on time.” Or, as my family of baseball players said, “5 minutes early is 10 minutes late.”
Establish “Agreements of Engagement”: Notice we’re not calling these “rules,” but rather “agreements.” To get all to agree, try this:
Chime it up!: Ring a chime, gong, or Tibetan singing bowl 5 minutes before you plan to start. Before you break, tell the group that the chime will sound when they have 5 minutes left, and again when they have 2 minutes. Explain that when they hear the sound, they need to wrap up their break and return to work. By the way, I just learned that the gathering chime dates back to the early 1900s. The Deagan Railroad Dinner Chime was used to call people to dinner. A few more notes about how to use the chime for optimal results:
Clapping Sequence: Create a clapping pattern and ask folks in the front to pass it on to people behind them. When all have joined the clapping sequence, you’ll be ready to begin.
Play that Song: Pick a song to play that will signal you’ll be resuming shortly. When the song ends or is cut off, promptly get started. If using music, select diverse musicians and musical styles from all over the world. You can also try:
Flash the lights: Couple your auditory signal with a visual of flashing lights, to signal you’re about to resume the session.
Show Elapsing Time: The Time Timer is a clock time with a large red wedge that becomes smaller as time runs out. Set a clock at the front of the room or project the clock in front of the room. Time Timer is another way to show that time is winding down. [NOTE: if you think the conversation is dwindling before time is up, feel free to adjust the clock, accordingly.] You can also download countdown timers from YouTube.
Cliff Hangers: Let your group know that if they are back on time, they’ll see you . . . Juggle? Sing? Stand Upside Down? Breakdance? Make the biggest bubble they’ve ever seen? Play your favorite song? Learn the secret to making the perfect granola? Try to recall everyone’s name and favorite food? You name it. Pick something that will appeal to your group and be sure to follow through. Ask those in the room to talk it up after, so that next time you take a break, everyone will make sure to arrive on time.
Raffle Tickets, Funny Money, Candy, etc.: Reward those who arrive on time after every break with a raffle ticket or sweet treat. “Prizes” don’t need to be big–a $5 Starbucks card, $1 scratch ticket, a fidget toy of their choosing–but enough fun to encourage them to return in a timely fashion. If using raffle tix or funny money, see who has accumulated the most at the end of class, or do a pick a final winning raffle recipienct.
Poker Hand: Distribute a playing card to each attendee who enters the room on time. At the end of class, award a prize to the participant who has the winning hand.
Fun and Games for Meeting Management: Entice the group to come back on time so they can have a turn with the oversized bubble wand (why are those things so mesmerizing to “kids” of ALL ages), take part in a paper airplane contest, tackle a few rounds of “Would you Rather…,” or play a round of Bananagrams. Make it fun to return from a break, rather than coming back early only to plunk their fanny in a chair for another hour.
American Idol Theme: Once the group is situated in groups at their tables, let them know that one of the “agreements of engagement” is to participate in the Idol Theme. That is, if one person in their group is late, then the whole group has to perform a song and dance. This encourages group members to look out for one another.
Meeting Management with Late “Fees” (with a caveat!): We hate to resort to negative reinforcement, but if all else fails, you might try to create repercussions for those returning late from a break. I’ve heard about trainers requiring late-comers to sing a song, tell a joke, or do something embarrassing. To be honest, these approaches, cause me some discomfort. I hate to even mention them here. Perhaps you can tone it down by having latecomers recite a tongue twister or do a “funny walk” to get to their seats. I’d take caution when implementing this approach and consider using it only for groups that know each other well.
If you want to be super precise about return times, ask everyone to check their clocks and make sure they’re on “classroom standard time.” Then, let them know that they need to be back precisely at 2:13 (or whatever time you designate). Sometimes setting a silly time will encourage them to take greater notice of the time. Whatever you do, be sure to create a spirit of fun and respect, so that meeting or training participants look forward to restarting the program.