If you’ve ever been to an event where the speaker took longer than their allotted time, you know how frustrating it can be. If you have been in charge of such an event you know how many problems it can cause. The easiest solution to prevent awkward interruptions and ruined itineraries is to provide a countdown clock for your speakers. Some companies use stand-alone professional clocks like DSAN’s Limitimer or even a DIY method like an employee in the front row holding up an iPad or index cards. These solutions work, but over the last several years we’ve come to appreciate the digital software clock for its versatility and dependability. There are several versions, but we use a robust app within our production software that is totally customizable. It can be displayed on one screen or on multiple ones, including in green rooms or on off-site screens of virtual presenters.
10 Tips for Leveraging Your Digital Countdown Clock
- Before your meeting begins, have a “presenter’s huddle” at the front of the room. Make sure they all know there will be a countdown clock, where it will be, and what it will look like. Encourage them to look at it frequently and do their best to honor the schedule so they don’t take time away from anyone else.
- The largest display, in the middle of the screen, should be the countdown timer. In a corner (we recommend lower right usually) and much smaller, display the time of day including AM/PM for extra reference.
- If a presenter plans to show a video at any point during their time on stage, ask your production manager to display a smaller video countdown in a different corner of the countdown clock. This helps the presenter be prepared for a smooth transition as soon as the video is finished.
- Be thoughtful about font sizes and colors. The countdown is the most important function of the countdown clock, so it always should be the largest and in the middle. Make each piece of information a different color, and avoid red and green because of their stop/go connotations.
- There’s one exception to the red/green color rule and it’s this: once a countdown clock reaches zero, have it change to red and begin counting up so the presenter will have a clear visual cue that they have gone over their time limit.
- Leave space on the screen for a notes section in case you need to communicate a brief message to the speaker, like “Wrap it up!” or “Don’t forget Q &A”. Your production company can offer you great guidance on your best options for the clock layout.
- Countdown clocks are usually located onstage by the confidence monitor. However, some presenters spend most or all of their time looking out at the audience and forget to look down. Consider adding a second clock display at the back of the room.
- Despite your best efforts, sometimes a presenter will still continue speaking after their time is up. Have a plan for how you will intervene, and make the presenters aware of your plan at the huddle. “If the time has gone over too much, we’re going to have Scott, our COO who’s sitting on the front row, get up and come to the stage to thank you for speaking. If you see him coming know that you have only a few moments to finish.”
- For some events, it can also be helpful to have a countdown clock display that the audience can see. If, for example, you plan to have attendees spend 3 minutes meeting their peers or brainstorming an idea, a visual clock is a much cleaner and more professional than someone calling the time every 30 seconds from the stage.
- Occasionally the itinerary for a meeting will include a time in which multiple people are given a very short time to present an idea or summary, and it’s essential that everyone stick to their allotted time. One way to do this without creating uncomfortable scenarios where the moderator has to interrupt long-winded presentations is to have the timer begin playing “awards show music” or even sound a buzzer when their time is up. This is obviously only appropriate in very specific settings, but it can bring levity and reduce frustration while also keeping everyone focused on respecting the time limit.
Keeping an event on the schedule is always a top priority of a meeting planner, and control over timing is reduced every time someone takes the microphone. Using a countdown clock, especially a customized software version, is the best way to help your presenters manage their time so the day continues as planned.