“People will say it was a good online meeting if it followed an agenda and it started and finished on time.”
~ Judy Rees, Rees McCann Consultant, UK
We all treat time differently. And while that may be true, it’s still important that when we meet to work, we start and finish on time. This is especially critical if we’re gathering online when it’s more exhausting for the brain to stay focused and engaged.
Unfortunately, starting and finishing on time doesn’t happen on its own. Intentions alone are insufficient especially when anything can go wrong with the technology, and managing attention is harder than when we are in person.
Luckily, there are four things you can do to keep your online event on time. Not to mention, manage stress levels.
1. Use an Excel sheet to create a “flight plan” or “running order” for your entire online event. The flight plan is meant to get your passengers safely to your agreed destination on time.
Ideally, you will have a technical producer who will oversee the flight plan and keep you in step with it. If you’re running ahead or behind time, the producer will alert you so you can adjust accordingly.
I like using an Excel sheet because it calculates the amount of time I have left of an event. That lets me know if I can give an activity more time, or whether I’ll need to cut back on it.
2. In your flight plan, timebox everything so that each activity you run during the event has a clear start and end time.
This means, for example, that you know what time a presentation will need to wrap up so that there’s enough time for Q&A. You’ll also know when there needs to be a stretch break, or how much time you will have for an energiser.
Timeboxing doesn’t mean being rigid. You’ll still need to have design flexibility so that if attendees need more time with their questions, you know how they can get those additional questions answered. For example, you could get them to pop any additional questions in the chat, with a promise that you will answer these questions on a notice board like a Padlet or a Miro or Mural. That way, you will still keep the event on time, while still attending to attendees’ needs. And, demonstrates listening skills.
3. Employ a producer or co-host whose task is to keep an eye on the time so that you don’t go over for any one activity.
It would be superhuman to try and do everything if you’re facilitating an online event. Between making attendees feel welcomed, and facilitating the event, and managing attention, and sharing your slide deck, and answering questions, it’s not always possible to do everything well all at once.
My recommendation is to farm out what you can so that you can focus fully on being the best facilitator possible for your event. Time management is one thing that’s easy to contract out to a producer. The producer can send you a private message, or speak up (if you’ve contracted that ahead of time), to let you know if you’re running behind time.
I think of the technical producer as being a stage manager for a performance and can’t recommend it enough. Like in a well-produced performance, the audience doesn’t need to know what’s happening behind the scenes. And like a theatre audience, your attendees will have a seamless experience and leave knowing their time was well-spent.
4. And finally, start on time so you can finish on time. If you wait for latecomers, you punish the punctual, and you send a signal that latecomers can hold your event hostage.
In your joining instructions for your event, be sure to state that you will be starting on time and that you’re aiming to finish on time so people can get on with whatever else they need to do.
Invite attendees to arrive at your online event five minutes before the start so that everyone will be ready to start when it’s time. In all my online events, I open the room 15 minutes ahead of time so that attendees can arrive even earlier to network, or to check their tech.
In one of my How to Host Engaging Online Events workshops, an attendee said he wasn’t a morning person and was usually late for events. Because of that line in my joining instructions, he got up on time two mornings in a row so that he could arrive before the start of the workshop.
The most important thing isn’t just to say it in the joining instructions, of course. It’s to make sure that your actions then match what you say you will do. Essentially, if you demonstrate what the contract around time is, your attendees will know clearly what the rules are. You can then expect behaviour that adheres to what is being contracted, more of the time.
Time management of online events is intentional and requires preparation. These four tips are tried and tested and will support you in your next event. And if you’d like to learn other tips, get in touch to find out more about how we can train you or your team in How to Host Engaging Online Events.