36

Scenario 1:

Depending on the length of the talk, I'd show the speaker a 10min/5min "warning" sign that their time is about to come to an end. Arguably, 1-2min "overtime" seems tolerable, but 5mins will delay further proceedings (especially if everyone is doing it). What would be a polite way to transition into the question segment?

Secenario 2:
In the question segment, people sometimes forget about the rest and a (heated) discussion will erupt. How to politely remind the people that other people might have questions as well or that the next speaker should come up.

Addendum: This also should work in a virtual environment.

6
  • 12
    Ask Miss Sweetie Poo youtube.com/watch?v=xAnVNXaa5oA The Ig Nobel organization solved this problem a long time ago
    – Gantendo
    Feb 21 at 20:42
  • 37
    There is no great need to be polite. A speaker who trespasses on the time of following speakers is far more impolite than you are going to be.
    – Anton
    Feb 21 at 23:16
  • 2
    @Gantendo, thanks for that link 👌. I love the general good nature of the academic community in this context, the last guy nailed it 😅. Feb 22 at 2:28
  • 2
    @Anton Impoliteness is not a excuse to be impolite too.
    – raulmd13
    Feb 22 at 15:27
  • 2
    @raulmd13 But is not impolite to dispassionately inform the speaker that their time is up and they must finish then and there. Politeness isn't binary - it's a continuum with positive (polite) and negative (impolite) values. When you're working for the benefit of everyone else, a politeness level of zero (neither polite nor impolite, just business-like) is perfectly acceptable.
    – Graham
    Feb 24 at 0:19

5 Answers 5

43

If you'd like to give the speaker 10, 5 and 1-minute warnings, assign someone to hold up cards with those warnings.

If someone goes over and you need them to finish, you will need to be assertive. Stand up, walk to the front of the room, and announce, "Thank you very much, but we are out of time and need to wrap this up. Perhaps our speaker may be willing to answer additional questions offline during our break. Again, many thanks to our speaker for a wonderful presentation and to our attendees for their kind attention."

Added: As lalala points out in comments, all it may take is walking to the front of the room. It shouldn't take a genius to realize you did that because time's up. You may not have to say a word. But if you do, be assertive and just say it.

3
  • 7
    I use to walk up the stage close to the speaker at the 1 Minute warning (unless it is clear that there are 20 slides left, then at the 5 Minute warning)
    – lalala
    Feb 22 at 12:16
  • 1
    @lalala Yup, that can work. Once you walk to the front, everyone, including the speaker, knows time's almost up. Feb 22 at 14:16
  • 1
    Depending on where the session chair sits, even standing up can be enough.
    – Chris H
    Feb 23 at 11:29
73

While this is unlikely to be a broadly useful answer, here goes.

Story time:

Some years ago I attended a focused conference/workshop held in a small town in Italy. The town had a lovely conference center with an auditorium and a nice sound system for the talks. Each day there were sessions with talks, as well as discussion time and activities. The first day's program was a disaster - nobody kept to their allotted time, the session ran late, lunch was late as a result, and so on. One of the more experienced hands said no problem, I'll take care of it tomorrow.

The next morning the first speaker ignored the stop signal and kept on talking. The audience then heard, slowly coming up in volume, a selection from the Three Tenors. The speaker tried talking louder. The music kept swelling. The speaker quit speaking, and the music slowly went away. The audience looked back, and there was the experienced hand at the sound board with his CD player jacked into it to provide the music.

The next speaker also ignored the stop signal and tried to keep talking. Once again, music from the Three Tenors started being added into the sound system. That speaker figured out what was going to happen, and stopped rather abruptly before the music got too loud, and the audience had a good laugh.

Nobody else ran over time through the rest of the week.

So, a sound board and an Ipod to provide lovely classical music is one approach to the issue. It works quite well.

7
  • 42
    That was fun. Wish I'd been there. Maybe not as speaker, though.
    – Buffy
    Feb 21 at 14:24
  • 1
    This is fun but not a realistic solution in most contexts Feb 22 at 9:22
  • 9
    Playing music over the top of the speaker seems like a very contrived and, frankly, not very professional approach. Feb 22 at 14:20
  • 25
    @NicoleHamilton - well, the speakers had already violated their part of the bargain. It got the point across to everyone that going over had to stop, and in a less abrupt way than hauling them off the stage or just cutting the microphone. We all learned the lesson quickly, and could laugh about it afterwards.
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 22 at 17:21
  • 4
    @NicoleHamilton - Why isn't is professional? I've seen several conferences use this tactic when someone goes over. The other options are cutting the mic or sending someone onstage to cajole them off. If you send someone on stage they can argue and say "just 1 more minute" which sometimes resulted in people being physically dragged off-stage. By contrast playing 3 Tenors got everyone to leave willingly and laugh about it. Feb 23 at 18:04
17

I think both scenarios have the same response:

You need to look for a natural pause from the speaker. When they end a sentence, when there's a moment of silence, when they finish asking a question. Moments like these are where you should slip in and (firmly) state that the time for their presentation/question really has passed.

For a question/discussion mention that they should 'take it offline', i.e. continue the discussion afterwards without the audience so that the session can move on. For a presentation, you can give them one final minute if you're lenient. But if you've already warned them that their time is up, tell them that and move the session further.

This answer is also possibly useful: https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/54150/69838

2
  • 4
    In scenario 1, I guess the problem would be with a presenter that doesn't do natural pauses - these also seem to be the ones most likely to overrun their time in the first place. Feb 22 at 10:21
  • 1
    @lighthousekeeper I agree. I would not wait for a pause that may never happen. Feb 22 at 14:17
6

Meet with each speaker prior to the session, perhaps immediately before and perhaps earlier. You may need to find a way to inform them that they need to meet.

Tell them that you will appear on the stage immediately at the scheduled end of the talk, hopefully within their peripheral vision. That is the two minute warning. After two minutes, just step to the podium/mike and say "Let's thank the speaker" and start the applause. If you don't permit two minute "overruns" then just step on the stage a bit earlier, within the five minute window.

Many speakers will actually appreciate this as five minutes (and ten, especially) can seem like a long time for a speaker.

If it is in a Q/A session, there is likely a microphone (or more) on the floor. Have someone step near it at the two minute mark and ask for it when that time expires.

People can carry on any remaining conversations away from the presentation.

It is polite in the sense that the speaker has been given notice, several times with your ten and five minute warnings. It is also polite to following speakers that things don't overrun and to audience members who come for only some of the presentations. The last speaker, especially, will thank you for keeping it moving.

This is a fairly common practice at some large in-person meetings in my experience. It is a bit harder with a virtual meeting unless you have a private channel to a speaker. I think a Zoom host has some power to interrupt and one can send private text via chat.

4

In my somewhat limited experience the best solution to this is the automatic timed "traffic lights" that both the speaker and audience can see. They display a green light during the main bit of the talk, it turns yellow when approaching the end and turns red when the time is up. As the audience can see it they know the speaker is going over, the speaker knows the audience knows and tends to finish soon. It is not a absolute protection, and the chair may need to step in after a while, but it does provide an automated way of delivering the information that avoids the personal uncomfortableness of having to interrupt a potentially senior academic.

6
  • Works if you have those lights -- but who does? I've seen them, but very rarely. Feb 22 at 14:28
  • True, and from a quick google I could not even find a site describing them let alone someone selling them.
    – User65535
    Feb 22 at 14:30
  • 1
    Time Tracker Visual Timer $37 on Amazon
    – Robert
    Feb 23 at 13:44
  • A Hue colour-changing bulb will do the job nicely -- either manually controlled or it's reasonably easy to script. Newer bulbs can run from Bluetooth, so you don't need a bridge if you don't have one to hand already. I used one for an attempt to help my children understand when I could be disturbed while working from home. Feb 23 at 15:44
  • I've seen a version of this used on a screen (laptop/monitor) positioned in the room, that shows the approximate time remaining, in green/orange/red. Worked quite well, I don't know what software they were using (but even a presentation that automatically continues to the next slide might work).
    – user53923
    Feb 23 at 16:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .