Time Management Tips for meeting and event planners
There is no present like the time. Don’t waste it.
If you’re not discussing the real issues or teaching what needs to be learned, managing time doesn’t matter. It’s all wasted. The simplest and fastest way to address true issues and accomplish time management goals at a meeting or training session is to be interactive. This article is about time management beginning before the agenda is locked in place. To determine what is important and how much time to spend on it is best accomplished with the speed and anonymity of an Audience Response System. This voting technology is used to instantly poll participants, gain useful feedback, stay on topic and create interaction between the speaker and the meeting attendees. This time-saving Audience Response System Technology is also known as Electronic Voting Keypads, ARS voting, and Clickers. Its use is simple, and its results are powerful.
It often escapes people, or they are fearful of anonymously empowering their meeting group to vote to set portions of the agenda or decide which issues they want to or need to discuss. Not doing so wastes everyone’s time. It is smart and productive and equally importantly displays true concern for the attendees and respect for their intelligence. Lecturing and assuming management alone knows what to discuss (or is safe) and what to leave unaddressed, is the biggest waste of valuable time at a meeting or seminar, or training. Let’s say it again: If you’re not discussing the real issues: Managing time doesn’t matter. The session is just creating boredom and undermining respect for management.
Serve the needs of the attendees and don’t waste their time. It is very common for management, instructors or the session presenter to assume they know what the issues really are when that knowledge resides with the people being trained or lectured to or even worse lectured at. The premise is simple: Use an Electronic Keypad Voting System (also known as Audience Response Technology, ARS Clickers) both before and during the session to discover and set the agenda that best serves the attendees is the most important simple time-saving device.
There is one common argument that comes up in opposition to saving time by discovering the true topics: it’s the belief that time is wasted in the discovery process. The opposite is true. Asking one or two questions to discover what to deal with takes only a minute or two. Compare that to an hour on the wrong discussion or training.
The power of an audience response system lies in its ability to solve basic problems and do it simply. Simplicity is a great strength of ARS. Here are useful tips for interactive meetings speakers and presenters. They are so basic to a successful presentation that they are often overlooked.
At their best, interactive meetings are a mix of prepared questions for discussion mixed with impromptu questions that bubble up to the surface. The perceived problem presenters have is that they can’t estimate how many questions they need and more importantly, how long will they take. First, realize that LESS IS MORE. Get down to the most important (basic) questions, with as little text on screen as possible. Then time and read the questions aloud. Give the audience 10-15 seconds to respond. More thoughtful questions may need more time to complete. Displaying the responses on screen is instantaneous.
The audience response questions should be catalysts for thought, action and discussion. The unknown expenditure of time to really be concerned about is the discussion (if any) after the question. Since there is no way to know how long the discussion that they spark will be, the first solution is to prioritize the questions. Discuss the most important items first. If time runs out, the most important issues will have been dealt with.
Time Management via Empowerment
You have your outline; now use anonymous interactive participation to determine which topic within that list is most important to the attendees. The key here is that it’s elements from your training or conference presentation list. Spend more time on the important topics/issues to you as the presenter and to the audience. What a great aid it is to any presentation to know what the audience is really interested in or concerned about. Take a moment to see what they know or need to know. We call it their Level of Understanding and Level of Expectation.
Here’s how simple it is. Display your “Laundry List” of topics that you wish to discuss. Ask the audience which of them is most important and prioritize the list. By asking a single question the audience is empowered to assist the speaker have a more effective and successful session. Determining their level of expectation automatically makes your session more interesting, valuable—and successful.
Which topic is most important to discuss?
- New product development
- Refining existing product
Presenters and moderators often misunderstand this process. They fear that it may be a way to lose control and introduce topics that they are not prepared to discuss. Precisely the opposite is true. Remember that the list of topics you present is yours. If something comes up that you don’t want to discuss, simply refer to the list and say that you need to/want to stay on topic and use your time more effectively and better serve the audience.
Then consider determining their Level of Understanding. Ask one question (from within your presentations list of discussion topics) about the topic to see how knowledgeable or sophisticated they are about the topic. That creates a starting point that isn’t too high, or low for the attendees of that session. It might be as simple as asking directly. Let’s assume that the New Product Development choice was unexpectedly a high-ranking choice.
What is the most important element of Refining existing products to discuss?
- Sales Literature
Don’t guess at what needs to be discussed or taught. Find out before you start, and have a better, more interesting and useful session. Keep you emphasize the newly discovered
Quickly determine if breakout sessions are needed or just a waste of time
Often time is wasted by assigning breakout groups to discuss perceived issues. Use the instantaneous response feature of your audience response system and ask one quick question to see if there is consensus making the breakout unnecessary and a huge waste of valuable time. If you don’t own the technology staffed service with and onsite technician or Rub-it-Yourself rentals are commonly available.
How long does it take to ask a question?
The simplistic response is that it takes as long as you need to read the question aloud, plus 10-15 seconds for the audience to respond. (Although I do not recommend it, a countdown clock may be inserted into the question screen to speed up the process.) Once the voting is closed, it takes about a second to tabulate and send the response to projection. So, there is no mystery in timing your questions. Just read them aloud and add 15-20 seconds.
The most important time managing consideration isn’t about the voting devices, it’s what comes after asking the questions.
First, consider how much time it will take the audience to think of the correct response. If it is an important or complicated question or though provoking question (hopefully that’s what most of your questions will be), decide if they might need more than 10-15 seconds. Perhaps allow 30 seconds, or in unusual instances allow a minute.
Quick Tally (the writer’s company) operators have a good feel for this process. They monitor the number of responses and generally wait until about 80% of the audience has voted and the votes start to slowly trickle in at the end of the bell curve, or the moderator calls for the vote to be shown, signaling that enough time has elapsed. This should be arranged in advance with the operator during the onsite rehearsal.
There are a few other time saving interactive options:
- Introduce the systems operator to the audience and speak to him/her during the voting, or establish eye contact for signals about when to close the vote
- Decide if you want to see that information on screen
- Simply ask the audience if they have had enough time to consider the question before closing the vote collection. Your technician will be monitoring the number of responses in real time.
Next consider that the bulk of most session time is generally and importantly spent after the initial question is asked, so make time allotment decisions about the process in advance. There are some pre-session decisions to be made:
- Are you merely reading the responses back, or are you correctly doing color commentary and explaining the meaning of the response feedback?
- At an educational session, are you going to explain the correct answer, or deal with reinforcing learning later? If you ask demographic question or divide the overall population of the room into teams, its possible to see how each group responded and make that the basis of further training.
- If the response is important to the progress of your talk, will you discuss it in depth then or at another time?
- Will there be follow up questions based upon the feedback of the audience members feelings and values?
- If anticipated, or unanticipated, will you use time in this session to discuss important newly discovered issues?
- Quick Time Management Tips
Arrange the question list in descending order of importance, so that if the session runs long, the least important questions are not asked. Do this with each topic if there are multiple topics in the session.
- Eliminate all but the few most basic, meaningful questions.
- Keep it simple: The question on screen is merely a brief prompt of the spoken question.
- Do not repeat redundant elements of the question in each of the choices. It isn’t necessary to repeat “Should we meet in”.
Where should we meet next year?
- New York
We’ve discussed how meeting speakers and presenters may want to be open to polling their audience for meaningful feedback, and often fear the loss of control by opening the session to impromptu questions from the audience. Normally, a mix of prepared questions is peppered with an impromptu (on-the-fly) questions and cross-tabulations that present themselves during the session.
There are ways to be slightly less interactive and still gain responses that reflect the audience member’s values and opinions:
- Have the attendees suggest topics or questions in advance via email, onsite kiosks, etc. At a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, the client placed old-fashioned English phone booths around their facility and recorded anonymous questions. Management selected some questions and played the audio while presenting the question in PowerPoint slides that they created via audience response system on screen.
- Questions from the floor are handled by the speaker and may or may not, become a part of the session at the speaker’s discretion. Questions submitted in advance may or may not be used. Control always remains with the speaker/moderator or instructor. You decide which questions pertain to the business of the work at hand, and you may tactfully delay due to time management other impromptu queries that fall outside of the Laundry List to be dealt with after the session.
- Another methodology to be slightly less interactive than having an “open mike” Q&A session from the floor, hand out 5”x7” index cards. If they are being written and submitted during the session, assign people to collect them. A great collection technique is to have a few people roam the floor with question marks (?) on tennis paddles. Have someone organize, select (filter) and present the selected relevant questions from a second podium. This gives management an opportunity to eliminate questions. Once a topic is selected continue to use the ARS Clickers to gather audience feedback.
Alan grew up in Brooklyn. After graduating from New York University with a degree in Communications, he attended the New School for Social Research, Graduate School in Communications at NYU and the Master’s Program in Cinema at UCLA. He has owned and run Quick Tally for over three decades and has pioneered both in the manufacturing of ARS equiment and providing interactive event services. Earl Grey, Alan’s 17 pound Maine Coon Cat, graciously lets Alan and his wife JoAnne live with him in Marina del Rey, California (Los Angeles).