What is a good way to signal the end of a large gathering?
December 20, 2013 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I regularly find myself needing to conclude a fairly sizable gathering of people. Too often I find myself at the end of our proceedings, saying something like "Have a great week," expecting people to get up and leave. But they don't. After an awkward moment, I find myself resorting to "We're done." Everyone laughs and finally leaves. How can I better signal a conclusion?
posted by toots to Human Relations (48 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Okay, any other business to discuss? Great, that's it for today."

Sometimes people have to be told it's over, and that's okay.
posted by The Michael The at 6:47 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

"Next time, we'll talk about [topics 1 and 2], but that's it for now—enjoy the rest of your week!" Then leave.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:48 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's been great; too bad you can't stay.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:48 AM on December 20, 2013

You get up first, then say "have a great week."

If they don't get the hint after that, then they're social dummies and you shouldn't worry about ending it awkwardly at all. Maybe just start hissing at them or something.
posted by phunniemee at 6:49 AM on December 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

You: "Nothing else? That one's in the books, then. Thanks, everyone."

exit, stage left
posted by jquinby at 6:52 AM on December 20, 2013

You ask if there's anything else, if possible plan the next gathering, thank everyone and stand up.
posted by graymouser at 6:53 AM on December 20, 2013

Whatever you say, if you stand up while you're saying it everyone will get that the meeting is over.
posted by something something at 6:56 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Stand up and say something like "OK, that pretty much wraps this up ... have a good week, and I'll see you guys next Wednesday"
posted by Fig at 6:59 AM on December 20, 2013

I could give a better answer if I knew the sort of gathering you're talking about, as well as the usual setting... for example, the winding down of evening gatherings is customarily done by serving coffee.
posted by duffell at 7:01 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

duffell: I was being purposefully vague about the type of gathering, because I was worried that if I said it was a Christian church-type Sunday morning gathering (which it is), the responses I'd get would be too narrow. But hey, there it is!
posted by toots at 7:12 AM on December 20, 2013

Is the space booked for something else afterwards? You can use that to get people to move on.

Does the invite to the gathering have a clear end time? Maybe put that on there?

Is there somewhere people can move on to if they want to keep talking? A restaurant/cafe? Maybe suggest that?
posted by ozgirlabroad at 7:16 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some types of religion have a ceremonial "That's the end" signal that people know and expect. You could institute something like that. It can be as stuffy or casual as you want it to be.
Rub-a-dub dub
Thanks for the grub
Yaaaaaay God!

posted by bleep at 7:21 AM on December 20, 2013

If it's the end of the church service, is there some kind of liturgical thing you can say? "Go in peace" or whatever? Or if you're at the front of the room, standing, can you say, "See you next week!" and then walk out into the room and shake people's hands or whatever?

I feel like, as duffell says, the type of gathering really determines the type of closing - I would have no problem saying "OK, we're done here" at the end of a work meeting, but it does seem a bit abrupt as the end of a church service.
posted by mskyle at 7:22 AM on December 20, 2013

Stand up, smile, and say "thank you all for coming, enjoy your week, and I hope to see you again next sunday!" If they don't catch on after that I despair of humanity.
posted by elizardbits at 7:26 AM on December 20, 2013 [10 favorites]

I say "OK, let's adjourn" for this, whether it's a formal meeting or just four people talking in a room.
posted by escabeche at 7:26 AM on December 20, 2013

Conduct an outloud group prayer at the time you want to end. As a part of the prayer, say "...We ask God be with all of us as we close and journey home tonight."
posted by Kruger5 at 7:28 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's the sort of gathering where you're supposed to stay in the room and everyone else is supposed to leave, then get up, say something like "Have a great week," (Or "go in peace" or whatever) gather up your stuff, and walk over to stand by the door or just outside it and to one side.

Like, at my morning church service, there is literally a recessional where the pastor and deacons and stuff walk down the aisle, then shake people's hands as they leave the sanctuary. But it can be a lot less formal than that, too.

Pretty effective IME.
posted by muddgirl at 7:30 AM on December 20, 2013

I mean, the pastor and deacons walk down the aisle and stand in the entranceway.
posted by muddgirl at 7:31 AM on December 20, 2013

mskyle: Here's the thing: our goal is to be conversational and informal. It's just that "We're done" seems to be the only thing that sinks in. I guess it's kind of a matter of conditioning over time.

kruger5: Good idea, and something we have definitely done. It's just that I feel kinda weird using a prayer essential as a convenient transition method.
posted by toots at 7:31 AM on December 20, 2013

"Hey everyone. I know some folks need to get out of here, so we'll go ahead and wrap it up for today. Thank you all for coming."

It's always convenient to blame things on some folks. :)
posted by BurntHombre at 7:35 AM on December 20, 2013 [15 favorites]

Basically whoever's leading needs to explicitly signal what happens next. So if you want people to stick around and converse in small groups, then go have a small-group discussion with someone. If you want people to move to the "coffee and cake socializing" part of the meeting, then start walking to wherever the refreshments are. If you want people to leave, then start the herd by walking to the door.
posted by muddgirl at 7:35 AM on December 20, 2013

Prayers have often been utilized very much for moments of transition, or to initiate transition (weddings, birth, death, journey, commencements, healing, etc.). Keep it genuine.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If people want to continue socializing after the gathering, and you don't, I'd see if you can recruit one of the socializers to move the chatting to, say, a local diner after. That way they can say something like, "Come on guys, let's get out of toots' hair so she can clean up" or whatnot.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:42 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Depending on the religious tradition, some people simply can't comprehend that the meeting is over without a prayer. I mean, it's really hardwired.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:46 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think probably coming up with some kind of consistent catchphrase, then, is probably what you want to do. It doesn't matter if it's "Go in peace" or "Stay classy, congregation!" You say it, and then you start making your way to the door.
posted by mskyle at 7:47 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a boss who ended all big meetings with a quote for the week. It was rarely more than a sentence, and they probably came from a website somewhere, but it was always there and everybody knew that meant we were done.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:49 AM on December 20, 2013

Stand up, smile, and say "thank you all for coming, enjoy your week, and I hope to see you again next sunday!" If they don't catch on after that I despair of humanity.

I'd start with something like this or have some sort of closing ritual even if it's not a prayer per se (a song you sing together? a hand-holding quiet moment? a "let's pass around the sign up sheet for who brings snacks next week" thing) and if people are still a little pokey (are they confused or are they just chatty?) I'd do something a bit more forward like say goodbye and then start getting up and putting chairs away, doing dishes, whatever. Some people are just pokey leaving places which should be okay, you can just start doing what you need to do to get yourself out of there by whenever you need to leave. Otherwise, if they are holding you up and you are not the person who needs to lock the door on the way out, just leave.
posted by jessamyn at 8:00 AM on December 20, 2013

Once you've completed your formal "this is the end" prayer or whatever, and they are still hanging around for their post-gathering chat, ask them for help with the clearing up. Either they will run away or else they will help you tidy the chairs and either way you win.

Once you have cleared up, turn off all or most of the lights.
posted by emilyw at 8:13 AM on December 20, 2013

I swear I'm not trying to be obtuse, but have you tried posting a begin and end time for this event?

"$_Meeting will be held on Sundays from 1pm to 2:30pm"
Better still if you can include your next engagement in the schedule somehow. Whether that's what the room is being used for next, or where you will be off to after, (Home to kids, hiking, taking a ceramics class) it might prime folks to think about leaving time, and they won't be caught off guard that you're "done."

Don't set the leaving time as your super firm time, because people will linger. But it gets things started for you in advance of having to say it.

So then you can look at the clock and say "so it's 1:45, and I need to be out of here at 2:00, is there anything else we need to wrap up before then?" Which, again, is a further move toward transition.

And then you can ask someone else to lead the prayer. Which is a third move toward getting out. So these things combined are gentle and not jarring.

Three is a good number for people brains. Too many and they feel annoyed. Too close together, and again, annoyed.
posted by bilabial at 8:15 AM on December 20, 2013

Benedictions exist for a reason! (I am a preacher's daughter.)

Stick your hands up and address everyone with a smile: "Go forth and rest easy knowing the peace of the Lord is with you." Then lower your hands. People will get the message.

OR (same hand gesture)

"Give thanks and leave with love."

OR (same hand gesture)

"Have a great week full of the best kind of surprises!"

OR (same hand gesture)

"What a world we live in! Walk with joy."

I could do this all day long. Feel free to memail on a Saturday night when you are stumped.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:34 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

"All right everybody, thanks for coming, it was a great meeting."
posted by the jam at 8:55 AM on December 20, 2013

Pretty common for everyone to hang around for a while after church services and chat... if circumstances are such that someone (you?)) needs to be out last to lock up, or others will be using the area, or anything else that means a finite time limit - you could always say something along the lines of "ok, we have about X amount of time before (I have to leave/we have to wind it up/whatever is appropriate)" and then do it. It may take them a few weeks, but they should get the pattern fairly quickly.
posted by stormyteal at 9:12 AM on December 20, 2013

The end of silent worship among Quaker is commonly signalled by the clerk beginning to shake hands with people near her, and then everyone shakes hands, and we know it's over and people can get up and leave, or stay to hear announcements.

In a setting like AA, or similarly in what we call worship-sharing where people are more likely to speak than in regular worship, the person running the meeting will ask, "Are there any burning needs?" or "is there anyone who hasn't yet had a chance to speak?" Then you take a long pause to give people a chance to pipe up if they're going to, and if nobody pipes up, you say, "Thank you, Friends" and start shaking hands

I think in any case what your group needs is 1) someone who is responsible for the meeting, and for judging when it ends, either by sensing that the group is winding down or by keeping track of the clock, and 2) some sort of ritual or known signal that lets people know it's over.
posted by not that girl at 9:40 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might introducing the last thing as "for our closing, I'd like to read/say/etcetera" ... Do the thing ... "Thank you".
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 9:50 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you're at a table, start gathering up your stuff, folding papers, shutting notebooks, putting caps back on pens, etc.
Then when the last person has spoken, give it a second and say:

"Okee doke! I think we've covered off our list, and unless anybody's got anything else, I think we're done! Good times."

Rap your fingers against the table to the beat of a rimshot, or "shave & a haircut," then stand up.
posted by ulfberht at 10:24 AM on December 20, 2013

When I first began teaching I had some trouble with this. I wanted to say "Class over, now go home. Shoo!" Especially if I had another class coming in.

I've developed a standard closing, which my students now come to expect:
"Any questions? Questions about anything?"
"Okay then, see you next week | tomorrow | next Tuesday!"
... and then I turn away from the class and busy myself with putting things away and erasing the board.
posted by Rash at 11:29 AM on December 20, 2013

At my childhood church, the pastor would say "Go in peace," (this could come after a prayer or announcement or reading or whatever-- wasn't tied to any specific thing), then the piano player or organ player would start playing a jaunty, upbeat, rather loud song (WITHOUT words), as the pastor walked up the aisle and opened the door between the sanctuary and fellowship hall, where snacks awaited. The music discouraged chatting/hanging in the sanctuary.
posted by holyrood at 11:33 AM on December 20, 2013

This way to see the Great Egress!
posted by Tom-B at 11:43 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Let's be careful out there."
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:23 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, and, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

posted by Flunkie at 1:45 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

"And now I ask that everybody make like Jesus and rise up out of your seats and get out."
posted by Foam Pants at 4:26 PM on December 20, 2013

"All right, that's it, thanks! You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
posted by kythuen at 4:40 PM on December 20, 2013

Something that has always worked for me is turning on really loud death metal. I recommend this song:


But then again, that is not appropriate in all situations.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:43 PM on December 20, 2013

Stand up when you can do so without interrupting. Speak slowly and clearly while making eye contact.

"Well, it's 5 til 10 so our time is just about up. At next week's meeting bob will be presenting his cigar collection. I'm so glad you could all make it this week. If you wouldn't mind stacking your chairs on your way out- thanks!"

If after 5 minutes they are still milling around you can say "all right, we're done!" Optional: "We have to get out so they can set up for the next meeting."

Maybe people just like each other - that's a nice thing. If it's not ok to linger in the space and chat maybe someone can arrange an outing for coffee so people can continue to talk outside the meeting.
posted by bunderful at 6:45 PM on December 20, 2013

(Oops, just saw the OP's comment about it being a Sunday morning Christian gathering. Nix the death metal suggestion.)

And yes, I know there are Christian death metal bands.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:50 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

mskyle: Here's the thing: our goal is to be conversational and informal. It's just that "We're done" seems to be the only thing that sinks in.

Nah, you just need to do a little more that cues "This is the end." I like to do a little recap of how the day went, something positive, and then conclude. So something like: "Well, it's looking like it's about time to wrap up. I want to thank everyone for what you contributed today and for using this time well and [compliment on something else important in the value system at hand]. And I'll also take the last moment here to remind you that next week we're going to be discussing XYZ, so do give that some thought. I look forward to seeing you all again then, and in the meantime, have a great week. Thanks everyone!'
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on December 20, 2013

Leaving aside the church aspect, the best manager of meetings (a school council, FWIW) I ever saw would do this:

1) Clearly state starting and finishing times on the agenda (eg, 5pm-6pm);

2) At 5.55pm, he would say apologetically, even if he had to interrupt, "sorry to interrupt, but it's time to wrap it up, some of us need be out of here right on 6pm to attend to other commitments";

3) At 6.01pm, he would stand up and say, "sorry, but we need to finish now. Thanks for your time, see you next week". Even if it was in the middle of someone elses sentence, we all knew it was over, and it only took a couple of weeks for everyone to learn to wrap it up at 5.55pm, so we were all out of there by 6pm.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:50 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great point! Standing up, or any other change-of-position physical movement, is also a great way to signal "the end." Moving out from behind a podium, pushing back from the table, shaking hands with your neighbors (might be nice in a church context), closing your books and stacking them, etc. People read that body language.
posted by Miko at 7:44 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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