You can’t have people in the same space for long without needing to make an announcement. But for serious y’all, announcements can be one of the most painful times in meetings.
“Uhh, pretty sure there was another thing we needed to know, Jimmy, didn’t you have something to add about the registration table? Is Jimmy here? Has anyone seen Jimmy? Let’s wait a minute and see if Jimmy comes back so we can make sure we all know about the registration table.” Then someone runs and finds Jimmy, and the only announcement is that if you haven’t registered yet, you probably should. This digs a deep well of despair in the hearts of your audience.
When you waste 10 minutes in a room with 100 people, you’ve just wasted 1,000 minutes of collective time! And when that 10 minutes is at the end of the session when everyone is squirming to use the restroom and get a cup of coffee and stretch an aching back, you’ve created 1,000 minutes of misery. Ergo and thusly, according to my math skills, five minutes of pre-planning announcements by the event organizers can save hours of collective time.
But of course everyone needs to know where to register and get their name tag. I’ve been to a number of conferences over the last few months and took note of some of the smartest ways I thought the conference organizers structured announcements:
- Write them down in advance! Seek out key organizers and check in to see if they have anything to add. Be clear in the planning process that announcements will be made 1-2 times per day and organizers need to be ready with anything they need to share BEFORE announcements start.
- Only do announcements a few times per day – obviously quick things like a room number has changed for the keynote speaker are more urgent, but in general, less is more.
- If announcements are going to be longer – which is ok – just tell folks – “OK this should take about 10 minutes so please get to a place where you’ll be comfortable for that amount of time.”
- Have a message board where the complicated details of announcement can go if folks miss them. Then you just have to announce, “Check the message board for announcements on where to put your luggage if you are catching a shuttle to the airport later. Jimmy will be standing there during break and can answer questions.”
- For lengthy announcements that are only relevant to a portion of the room, just announce there will be a side conversation happening during break and please find Jimmy if you need to be a part of that conversation.
- An exception: If these lengthy announcements are relevant to a marginalized portion of the group, that can be a really meaningful thing to happen in the full group – to be transparent about the diverse membership and the different ways that different folks are affected and participating in the event and naming struggles that are often invisible is a really great use of group time in my opinion. Marginalized members of the group are often shunted away into side rooms for their “issues” so it can be powerful to reverse that dynamic.
- Have a different person make the announcements each time. It is a simple way to show and build diverse leadership to have different people speaking in front of the room. There is this ingrained classroom instinct that the person at the front of the room is “in charge” so it’s useful to think about what that means in the container you’re trying to build.
- Have participants repeat back key information (Ok, where are we meeting for dinner? (The lodge) when is it starting? (7 pm). Does this seem grade-school-ish? Maybe, but as a person who often fades out during lengthy announcements, I am always missing details like times and room numbers and love it when announcers do this.
- Before opening it up to other announcements say – “If you have a question that is not relevant to the whole entire group ask XYZ organizer after I’m done talking. If you think your question or announcement is relevant to the entire group and it is under 30 seconds, share it now.”
- Note: In some groups, opening it up to any “other announcements” is an hour long Pandora’s box full of sidebars that will eat your carefully planned agenda alive. I love it when there is a box for announcements so folks can write down their announcements, comments and concerns and also a group calendar on the wall where people can write in upcoming events with contact info.
Maybe these thoughts seem grumpy or restrictive. It’s not my opinion that everything needs to be regimented and formal, and I certainly want to create a space where everyone’s voice is heard. But I also want to create an atmosphere that values and respects everyone’s time and capacity to pay attention.
To me, the philosophy behind tightly facilitated announcements isn’t “The organizers’ opinions are best and no one else should speak,” but more, “Y’all know the best way to use your time, so here is some basic info on how the group is functioning today and now you can go and do what you need.”
If you are working a group that is normally more unstructured, it can be helpful to be transparent about your motivations as a facilitator, “If you have any concerns about us introducing a comment box for announcements, you’re welcome to write those down and drop them in the comment box!”
Other thoughts on announcements?