Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach

20 Techniques to Improve Meeting Productivity: #6 Verbal Warnings

December 24, 2013

            “I agree that each agenda item should have a time limit but, as we get into our conversation, sometimes we forget how much time has gone by.  More often than not, our allotted time is gone before we’ve come to any conclusions.  How can we avoid this problem?”



VERBAL WARNINGS is a productivity technique to help groups pace their discussions.  This technique involves verbalizing how much discussion or work time remains within a pre-determined and agreed upon deadline.

Having time frames assigned to each agenda item is a great step toward enhancing meeting effectiveness.  The VERBAL WARNINGS technique further increases meeting success by managing discussion time.  It focuses discussions because it regulates the discussion timeframes, although this control feature needs to remain flexible enough to expand and contract as the specific discussion dictates.

By regulating the timeframes, this technique gives the meeting facilitator a powerful tool to help accurately estimate future meeting agenda time parameters.

When Do I Use Verbal Warnings?

• When you want to keep your meetings on track.

• When you are nearing the completion of each item on your agenda.

How Do I Use Verbal Warnings?

1. Introduce the VERBAL WARNINGS technique and determine who will track the time at the beginning of each meeting.

The first time you use this technique, you might say, for example: “In order to help us meet our agreed upon schedule, we need to keep better track of our time.  I suggest that from now on, we ask one person to be our official timekeeper at every meeting.  That person will be responsible to give us VERBAL WARNINGS about how much time we have left.  For instance on a discussion scheduled for 45 minutes, the timekeeper would give us a 30 minute, 15 minute, 7 minute and 2 minute warnings.  If he or she felt we were using our time wisely, they might only give us a 7 and a 2 minute warning instead.  What do you think about the idea? …  Who would like to be our timekeeper today?”

NOTE: Even if you are an external facilitator, it is generally better to share responsibility for the meeting’s success by using a timekeeper.  However, if you think that a separate timekeeper will be ‘overkill’, then be the timekeeper yourself.

NOTE: When small group discussions are used, each group elects their own timekeeper.

2. Give VERBAL WARNINGS for each agenda item as is needed.

3. Negotiate times as necessary.

When the pre-determined time is insufficient, ask the group or small groups how much more time they need.  Negotiate with the group/s for more time as is appropriate.

NOTE: This might mean negotiating not just how much time is needed for that agenda item but also what will be dropped from that meeting’s agenda if time runs out.

Conversely, be sure to watch for opportunities when less time is needed for an agenda item than is originally planned.  If you are observant and proactive in this way, your group will be able to use this extra time for other agenda items or meeting business.

In Summary:

VERBAL WARNINGS helps your meeting groups pace their discussions.  This involves verbalizing how much time remains within the pre-determined time frames for each agenda item.

1. Introduce VERBAL WARNINGS and determine who will be the meeting’s timekeeper.

2. Give VERBAL WARNINGS for each agenda item as is needed.

3. Negotiate times as necessary.

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