State of the Art of Ending My Zoom Meetings On Time
May 31, 2021 2:17 AM   Subscribe

I need a tech assist to get my Zoom meetings ending on time, that doesn't depend on my monitoring time plus speaking up. I'm just tired of needing to spend the last ~6 minutes of every meeting focusing on when I can break in and remind people to wrap up, instead of attending to the discussion.

Please assume that assertively announcing "two minutes to go" over voice, holding up a sign, or writing something in the chat aren't effective options (have been tried, aren't appropriate, etc.)... I need a tech assist! Searched the web but don't see better options than when I looked a year ago.

The dream is:
1. visible and/or audible to all participants when announcing near-end and ending times (don't rely on one person hearing/noticing and getting to speak)
2. not visible the entire meeting (because ticking down timer is visually distracting to many)
3. actually closes the meeting at the end time (no digressions, forgetting, etc.)

In my ideal world, Zoom meetings would give all participants (including meeting creator) the option to check off "need to leave meeting on time", with even 1 participant choosing this meaning all participants hear a sound and see a "2 minutes left" message near meeting end, then display a 30-second countdown with a "meeting ending" message and end the Zoom at 0:00.

Have seen hacks where people add a countdown timer (screenshare a browser window showing a timer, log in as 2nd Zoom account w/webcam pointed at timer, use video editing software to add timer overlay to your image), but these are complicated and the constantly moving timer is too visually distracting for some (including me).

Zoom's duration timer is not useful here, because it begins when the Zoom opens rather than the meeting start time, and doesn't provide a notification when near or at meeting end time.

I'm familiar with IFTTT-style tools, use Outlook for calendar/meetings, have a smart plug controlling lights that are viewable behind me when I'm on webcam (but don't see a way to automate these turning on near meeting end, other than manually turning on a timer at the start of every meeting), use my phone alarm to alert me when another meeting is starting in 5 minutes.

I'm trying to improve both meetings I create and meetings I'm part of, and am using both Personal Meeting Rooms (mine or others') and regular scheduled Zoom meetings. I can't control what Zoom apps are installed by my institution but doesn't hurt to ask. I've reduced my meeting occurences and lengths to help with the zoom fatigue, but shorter and ad hoc meetings are even harder to keep to time as no one remembers when they end.
posted by StealthOatmeal to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Go old-school. Get a kitchen timer, set it to 5 minutes before the end for you to notice, then set it for 5 minutes and set it on a box in front of you close to the microphone. When it goes ding hit the terminate Zoom button. That analog hit-zero and ding thing should do the trick.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:32 AM on May 31, 2021 [5 favorites]

Zoom meetings have, for me, crystalised sone the worst habits we do when meeting. People need some boundaries and guidance, and hospitality or hosting helps a good meeting to achieve its goals.

If you have an agenda sent beforehand...
If you ask for AOB (if relevant) no more than 24 hours beforehand...
If you ask people to confirm overflow availability (like AOB, no more than 24 hours before the meeting)...
If you chair the meeting to progress through the agenda, you'll know if you're on track to finish in a timely way...
If you take notes of what is said and by whom so you can move between agenda items (and send minutes) with a brief summary of each item...

Also check you've got Host status and can use "Mute All" to thank whoever was last speaking for their for their mansplaining, but now pressing on to focus on wrapping up.
posted by k3ninho at 2:47 AM on May 31, 2021 [9 favorites]

Yeah, you have to normalize aggressive take-over and just do it. Tools can help but like anything, it's the culture change that's required. People won't change until they have no other choice.

To that end, up-front, I always use a version of this (it's in the meeting notice, it's in the reminder email, and it gets posted to the meeting chat at least 3 times during). It's helped a lot.

"Just a note to remind participants that this meeting has a hard stop at [insert time] due to scheduling requirements. As that time approaches, chat reminders will appear at [X] minute intervals along with at least one verbal message to wrap up the discussion and organize action items/takeaways (if needed). We value your input and want to do all we can to align that with the need to respect everyone's time. We apologize in advance if this causes discussion to be shortened or disrupted. Thank you for attending!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:30 AM on May 31, 2021 [9 favorites]

You could possibly put everyone in a single Zoom breakout room and use the timer and "broadcast message" function on that. Breakouts will close automatically once the clock runs out -- everyone goes back into the main room, but you could use that time to say "Thanks for coming! See you next time!" and then end the meeting before anyone else has a chance to unmute.
posted by basalganglia at 5:00 AM on May 31, 2021 [17 favorites]

Please assume that assertively announcing "two minutes to go" over voice, holding up a sign, or writing something in the chat aren't effective options (have been tried, aren't appropriate, etc.)... I need a tech assist!

If they're going to ignore a human assertively stating "two minutes to go" they're going to ignore an automated system telling them the same thing.

But to your question, you could probably rig something with OBS to add a countdown overlay that would add a countdown overlay starting at 2 minutes to go, but it would be a bunch of work to get it to be fully automated with things like syncing to a calendar.
posted by Candleman at 6:03 AM on May 31, 2021 [8 favorites]

Is simply leaving the meeting when you need to leave not possible? If it's your meeting (you invited people) can't you announce that you have a hard stop at 10 or whatever, and ask someone else to continue as host if people still want to keep talking?

Where I work, people employ the "I have a hard stop" line or "That's all I had this morning, so I'd like to give everyone 15 minutes back." I also like another line I hear a lot, "I want to be respectful of people's schedules," when it's you who'd like others to be respectful of yours.
posted by emelenjr at 7:03 AM on May 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

The cost of this, by the way, is going to be grumbling and muttering and a certain amount of lost business because of stuff that didn't get resolved before the first few hard stops.

That cost is real but I recommend treating it as unavoidable. Once it's become apparent that your meetings always do have a hard stop, participants will adapt to that.

The only way it will ever come undone is if you announce a hard stop and then you push past it. So don't do that, not ever, unless you want to destroy your hard-stop discipline from that moment forward.
posted by flabdablet at 7:16 AM on May 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

Taking some structural cues from the idea of the typical Agile stand-up meeting may help. Not sure if you could persuade your participants to actually stand up - but it would not be bad idea. There is the expectation that the meetings will be frequent - daily probably - that they will start at their starting time (irrespective of who is there), that they will finish at their end time (schedule follow ups if necessary) and that people can freely leave without ceremony. As others have said, it is much easier to stop a meeting dead if you establish in people's heads that "this is what always happens".
posted by rongorongo at 7:17 AM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also seconding the use of an analog kitchen timer. A simple pointer creeping imperceptibly but inexorably around a dial is way less distracting than a digital display that positively grabs people by the eyeballs every time it updates. This is the same reason why I will not buy a car that has a digital speedometer.
posted by flabdablet at 7:19 AM on May 31, 2021

I agree with the points above that this will require meeting discipline, and not a hack.

With that said, my thought was you could add another user, and use a virtual camera to show a Power Point, with the countdown. This video briefly talks about virtual cameras in Zoom meetings, though that is the extent of my knowledge. Shouldn't take too long to throw together the appropriate slides, automate the slides, and adjust the color slightly (from green at the beginning to red at the end of the meeting), and as the slides get redder, a time remaining slide pops up. Maybe even put the agenda on the first few slides, so that everyone remembers what you are there for.

Neverthless, when the slide turns red, someone will still have to enforce the stop time.
posted by China Grover at 7:45 AM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Internal meetings are different than external meetings. External meetings (with even a single customer/guest/job candidate/etc.) require a level of politeness that makes hard stops impossible, so you need to build in a buffer and not schedule anything after the meeting.

Internal meetings can have a hard stop. The mentality I've adopted is "I've got to leave for the airport at 10 'til. You are all welcome to continue with the meeting without me." Sure, you can humor them and let them run over time, but you can feel the pressure building where you're disrespecting the people in the next meeting. You can disrespect those innocents, or disrespect these people who are causing the problem.

I used to work for an org that sceduled hour long meetings back to back making starting on time impossible, causing so much needless stress. I leave a 10 minute buffer between meetings I have influence over.

I schedule my (internal) meetings to start at the top of the hr, and end at 10 'til the hour. I state that clearly on the agenda I send out 24 hrs before the meeting. If there's too much on the agenda, or if things are changing the night before the meeting, then a followup meeting is scheduled for another time. At 20 'til the hour, I announce "10 minutes 'til stop". At 10 'til, I say "thanks everyone, gotta run, look for follow-up communications, feel free to keep going". Depending on which video conference system we're using (and I use 5 or more different ones), I'll either drop off the meeting, but not end it, or stay in the meeting, but muted, video muted (and physically video-muted with a shutter or a post-it). I then go to the bathroom, re-fill my tea cup, have a bite, look out the window, pet my cat, etc. Gotta stay sane, right?

Gotta be brutal. Just rip off that band-aid.
posted by at at 8:21 AM on May 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

We've started scheduling all our internal meetings to start at 5 past. We've realized if we schedule them to end 5 min earlier we'll always blow right past the time knowing there have a 5 min buffer, so the net result was not much changed. So we just account for people needing a couple minutes to get to the next meeting, and it gives the people showing up "on time" some down time to chat or even just sit there in awkward silence.

We also use the 'hard stop' terminology a lot. With zoom what typically happens is the meeting organizer will tell the group they have a hard stop, and when they're dropping put in the chat if they can't find a way to interject they're dropping. And sometimes they'll accidentally (or "accidentally") hit "End meeting for all" instead of "leave meeting", causing the meeting to end abruptly and often mid sentence, which is always a little amusing.

When we *really* need a timer, we have everyone join a shared Miro board, which does have built in timer functionality. But this is usually for predefined activities like setting aside the first 10 min for people to read the material, etc.
posted by cgg at 8:40 AM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you can deal with all your meetings being 40 minutes or less, use a free Zoom account instead of a paid one to host them. If there are more than 2 participants, it will cut the meeting off, with a countdown at the end, just like you want. Too bad they don't expose this functionality for paid users...
posted by jordemort at 8:50 AM on May 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

It is possible for the host to share their computer's audio. Maybe there could be a recording that plays silence for 53 minutes, then different songs or music during the closing minutes, leading to something rather overpowering at the end.

My group sometimes uses YouTube timers for this -- there are a number of timers with different lengths (videos) that count down the minutes, then play a kind of whooping siren at the end. For us, the siren is hilarious. We don't do it over shared audio, though -- every person gets a link to the timer so that they can see it and have a sense of personal control.
posted by amtho at 10:30 AM on May 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

naive approach: type the countdown into chat for an @everyone popup.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:15 AM on May 31, 2021

Hopefully this doesn’t sound flippant: a tech intervention is only as useful as the buy-in you get from others to comply. Assuming these are meetings you run, you can begin with an announcement/reminder of the technical intervention you’ll be using and why, and ask if everyone will agree to attend to it. The upside is it opens up the simplest tech solutions (e.g., a kitchen timer that dings for all to hear when there’s ten minutes left, you muting everyone to announce time to wrap up, etc.).
posted by theotherdurassister at 12:25 PM on May 31, 2021

I chair a lot of Zoom meetings in my job. For one particularly recalcitrant group. I share a countdown clock starting ten minutes before the meeting is supposed to end. I also tell everyone in advance that the meeting is "set to automatically shut down"* five minutes after the appointed end time.

If they haven't stopped talking when the clock hits 15 minutes, I hammer on that "end meeting for all" button. if anyone complains I look innocent** and blame "the settings."

*There is no such setting of course.

**It helps to cultivate a vague air of beffudlement with technology.
posted by rpfields at 3:21 PM on May 31, 2021

maybe useful...i used to run in-person meetings when i had a lead position. i started prefacing every meeting with 1 minute intro.
- welcome, today's topic is _____
- the ideal outcome is to record a consensus decision on ______ (or whatever).
- this is a 45 minute meeting ending promptly at ____

then at 5min remaining:
- we have five minutes, do we record a decision or schedule a follow-up?
- do action
- thanks for your attention (pick up my stuff and stand up), even if there's a minute or two left.

this depends on a few things
- you want and like to be a proactive facilitator.
- you are the meeting owner
- you have some intentional body language when wrapping up.
- i tried to schedule something directly afterwards so i couldn't be conned into extending.

if i were still leading calls - and doing it on zoom, i think i'd try just verbalizing time remaining, often. then, do an imperative wrap up.


(also, ime, 45min is max duration. 1 hour is a round number, but it's beyond the typical human's capacity for attention.)
posted by j_curiouser at 4:11 PM on May 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

As others have noted, there isn't really a technology that can enforce the desired behaviors better than a meeting organiser can.

That said, the best non-intrusive time keeping system we've come up in my very large (but generally cooperative team) is for the organizer keep time and use built-in features (raising hand, clapping etc) when there is X-minutes left, and then strictly enforcing this by jumping in at the close of the remaining time. It has the advantage of not requiring people to see you on screen front and center or have the chat open.

As others have noted, this will work better if there are agenda items and you keep time for each one separately, so its not just the last discussion point that gets short shrift.

We use Teams primarily, but I think Zoom supports arbitrary emoji reactions so you could just throw up a clock -- or some other more fun emoji if that's the kinda place you work. Basically, the world's most boring safe word system.
posted by voiceofreason at 3:43 AM on June 1, 2021

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