How To Signal “Time’s Up!” On Zoom

If you want a fun, engaging online event, you’ll want to keep any presentations nice and short. Under five minutes is the goal!

The other day I was facilitating a Community Conference online for Torbay Council. More than 100 people online for two hours. Half a dozen speakers, plus a Q+A. Lots of small-group activities. People sharing their experiences of how the community had pulled through the covid lockdown together. All super inspiring.

And enjoyable to facilitate, despite the odd technical hitch. (If you use breakout rooms in Zoom, make sure you update from 5.3.0 to 5.3.1. This is important.)

In the end, all the speakers kept themselves to time. But in my planning, I gathered a bunch of ideas about how to stop an overrunning speaker, on Zoom. Here are my top tips.

  • Share the problem with your speaker(s). Ask them to ensure they keep to time, perhaps by having a timer on their phone where they can see it clearly, and agree a plan for dealing with overruns
  • Don’t rely on sending a message in chat, or in a speakers-only Whatsapp backchannel. When people are presenting, they have enough to do without keeping an eye on the chat
  • Don’t let anyone spotlight the speaker! This is a bad idea anyway because it means they can’t get visual feedback from the audience. But it’s even worse if it means they can’t see the timekeeper.

When the speaker can see the timekeeper, there’s a choice of visual signals:

  • Hold up notices saying “one minute left” or whatever
  • Wave coloured cards or post-its to an agreed protocol (the movement should attract their attention)
  • Wave your phone, with the timer visible
  • Use coloured virtual backgrounds
  • Share a timer in your background using mmhmm.

Many thanks to the gang in the Remote Together Community and to Deborah Rim Moiso in the Art of Hosting Facebook Group for sharing ideas, some of which have ended up in this blog post.

What else has worked for you? Please share in the comments.

2 thoughts on “How To Signal “Time’s Up!” On Zoom”

  1. The timekeeper can also craft a more conspicuous message that is hard to overlook, e.g. by preparing a block of 5 lines:

    *** 5 minutes left ***
    *** 5 minutes left ***
    *** 5 minutes left ***
    *** 5 minutes left ***
    *** 5 minutes left ***
    *** 5 minutes left ***

    And then paste that into a privately sent message, on the chat. Of course, they’d better mention this beforehand, so it will be considered a service by the speaker.


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