“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” – T.S. Eliot
Do you sometimes struggle with ending your meetings on a high note? Do people leave the room or hang up the phone equipped and energized to take the next step? Do they even know what the next actions are, and who’s responsible for taking them?
Well, if any of that describes how your meetings end (as in dead-end), you’re not alone.
As pointed out in this article by Bruna Martinuzzi, “Many meetings fail to achieve objectives because the person running the meeting didn’t plan the end properly.” Too often, meeting leaders conclude with an “End of Meeting” or “Adjournment” note on the agenda, but with little thought to how the meeting could actually be brought to a productive close.
Here are 4 simple ways to plan a proper end to your meetings, and help everyone make a productive start on next actions.
1. Use a countdown timer
You will absolutely lose peoples’ attention by failing to end on time. It use to be, you may have heard, that our average attention span was about 7 minutes. Recent (2013) attention span satistics indicate the average attention span of a human is about 8 seconds, one second better than a goldfish. (We can probably thank all our modern gadgets and always-on technologies for that.)
This means meeting leaders must be even more diligent about managing time spent in meetings, and to be sure to end on time, or better still, early. One suggestion is to use a countdown timer. You could use an online one and let it run in the background. Or, simply use an app on your smartphone or a kitchen timer for this purpose. Using one will keep you more aware of keeping the meeting on schedule.
You might even assign someone as the meeting time keeper and to let you know if you’re lagging behind on the agenda. Have fun with it and let people know you value their time by not letting the meeting drone on and on. And, that if you can finish the business of the meeting on time or early, there will be a fun surprise at the end.
2. Give a two-minute warning
This idea comes from Mark W. Schafer in an article on 10 fun presentation ideas. He was talking about letting people know you were wrapping up and in a couple of minutes would open up for Q&A, so be thinking about a question you’d like to ask. Meeting leaders can adopt this same technique for letting participants know you’re about to end the meeting and that there’d be a closing round (see below), or a recap of sorts with action steps.
If you have any goldfish in the room or on the line, it will help get their mind re-engaged and prepare them to be part of the next actions discussion.
3. Initiate a closing round
The idea of having a closing round was put forth by Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Medium. What you essentially do is at the end of a meeting you go around the horn and ask everyone to comment on the meeting in 30 seconds or less. There is to be no back-and-forth.
According to Williams, the benefits of doing a closing round are: “It gives everyone, in a sense, a “last word”—the chance to get something off their chest that they might otherwise carry around or whisper to their colleagues later. It creates more mindfulness about what just happened—and how things might go better next time. And it lets you know where the group is at emotionally, as well as potential issues to follow up on that weren’t strictly part of the proceedings.”
Implementing a “closing round” at the end of your meetings can set the right tone, ward off any issues that may fester, and prepare everyone for the next actions round.
4. Lead a next actions round
Who isn’t familiar with David Allen’s productivity philosophy of getting things done through identifying next actions? Is something actionable? Yes. Then what’s the next action? If it takes less than 2 minutes than do it, if not then delegate it or defer it – but be sure you’ve got your list of next actions to move the thing forward!
But the question is not so much, should we have next actions? It’s how should they be stated and by whom?
Harvard Business School senior lecturer, Robert C. Pozen, has seven imperatives to keeping meeting on track. The seventh has to do with ending the meeting well. Pozen suggests meeting leaders ask participants three questions:
- What do we see as the next steps?
- Who should take responsibility for them?
- What should the timeframe be?
Then put the answers in an email and send them out to everyone. That way, “No one can say what really happened,” Pozen says. Doing so will also establish public accountability, and let everyone know your meetings mean business.
Adigo conference hosts can use the record on the fly prompt by just pressing “*2” and instead of recording the entire conference meeting, just record the next actions round. Take the MP3 of that and send it out in an email, or you could have it transcribed and send it out as a text file.
Try implementing these 4 techniques for your next meeting: use a timer, give a two-minute warning before the closing and next action rounds. See if your meeting doesn’t just end on a high note because you’ve set the stage for the work to continue.
Tools for helping make meeting productivity and proper endings a reality
Here are a few more things you might try to end your meetings well.
- Use a system like After the Meeting to track tasks, status updates and more.
- Take meeting notes online or off and get them out right away with meetings.io
- Less Meeting is another system that can help keep your team focused and accountable, and it has some automated follow-up features
- Find the best time to start and end meetings across multiple time zones with the free World Clock Meeting Planner
Here are some more references on the topic of ending meetings:
- What is the Best Way to Begin and End Meetings? (Michigan State University)
- How to End a Meeting: 3 Tips for the Last 5 Minutes (by Shari Alexander)
- How to Properly End a Meeting, Regardless of Your Role (by Matt McWilliams)