I believe that we are always teaching people how to treat us. If you start late, you’re teaching people to arrive late next time. For example, I know that if I am attending a webinar, I can expect to start several minutes late, and to listen to boring introductions for the first 10-20 minutes. I tend to arrive on time and use that time to catch up on my emails. It is very rare, that I feel my time is respected on a webinar or at most meetings. We are all trained or being trained to operate with very low standards.
My first step is promising participants in advance that I will be starting and ending on time. I reinforce it with a request to arrive ten minutes early to settle in, have some social time and get comfortable. Even working on Zoom I offer coffee social time at the beginning of a meeting, so people can randomly make new friends, just like at in-person events. People love this!
In some of our training programs, the end of the day needs to be flexible because we don’t want to leave someone struggling if we are processing some deep emotional work. In this case, I promise to start on time, and give an estimate of the target ending time, and ask participants to be flexible give or take 30 minutes for the end time, and I explain why.
I am a nice guy, I understand that some people will be late for unexpected reasons, and because they have been trained by other facilitators to expect to start late anyway. Here’s how I support them and still start on time. I start with something fun and energizing, that is not critical to the rest of the day’s content, so I don’t need to repeat it for the benefit of late comers. My favorite is to start with an energizer, even on Zoom. This is a fun activity that you usually do after lunch to bring up the energy of the room and get people’s bodies moving. Why not start the day with some high energy and laughter?
Some trainers and facilitators dislike energizers, and some participants really hate them because they are afraid of looking foolish or vulnerable. We are transformational leaders, so let’s make this easy and beneficial. Start with something really easy, and really fun. It’s important to know some really good energizers that are new to most participants. I Have a dozen or so go-to energizers I have memorized and practiced. If you want fun ideas and new games that will have you and your participants loving it, take a few improv classes at your local theater company. Or find some online. After you learn a few, you can start to adapt games to fit your theme and gamify just about anything.
So, I start exactly on time with an energizer game. Preferably something I can later tie into the learning. It typically takes 5-10 minutes to do a good energizer, so late comers will either join in, or come in near the end of the fun and wonder what they missed. That’s ok, they can play more later in the day. We can welcome them with enthusiasm and love, without any judgment for being late or making them feel bad.
By the way, never, ever, ever, greet a late arrival with a sarcastic “glad you could join us”. This is a common mean-spirited comment in toxic work-place settings, and it will annihilate any attempt at creating emotionally safe space for the entire room.
If you are using a slide deck, another idea is to start the event with cartoons. Jack Canfield does this at every event from a one-hour keynote to a 7-day training. He teaches that we start with humor because it improves the immune system and our memory, and opens us up to better learning, and it’s just a lot of fun. He’s right. I'm adding this suggestion because you could also use this to solve the starting on time situation.
Whatever you do, remember, the goal is to build trust and create safety. We do this by starting with clear expectations explained in advance. We build on it with modeling integrity, making and keeping small promises like starting on time. We also build community by having fun and laughing together. And we respect late arrivals while simultaneously training them that we start on time.
If you’d like to talk more about safe and sacred spaces, I’d love to hear from you! What’s been your biggest challenge?
Michael J. Kline is a Teacher, Healer and Firekeeper. You can often find him teaching emotional processing skills like RIM (Regenerating Images in Memory), or assisting Jack Canfield, training transformational trainers, or hosting a retreat at Con Smania Retreat Center in Costa Rica. Otherwise, he’s at home in Sarasota FL, with his husband of 34 years, and their labradoodle Luke. You can reach him through his website www.intus.life, or e-mail email@example.com