Most bishoprics that have been set-apart longer than a few weeks will know the feeling of trying to read the mind of the speaker at the lectern that has gone over their allotted speaking time by a few minutes.
“Do they not realize their time is up? It sort of sounds like they are concluding their remarks. But he said he would be sharing a list of 7 analogies and I think he is only on number 4. But look at the clock, I’m sure he realizes his time is up.”
Before the bishop knows it, the speaker has carried on and now the meeting is almost over, and there is still a 15 minute talk standing by. With only 5 minutes left in the meeting everything will feel rushed and there is little room for the Spirit to settle.
This is a tough situation, especially if you have little experience presiding over a meeting. The reality is, most members of the Church are inexperienced when it comes to public speaking. They tend to over prepare because they don’t want their message to sound shallow or be too short. When a member of the bishopric asks them to speak for 10 or 15 minutes that feels like an eternity to them. After spending weeks preparing they think their outline will take 10 minutes to deliver but it will actually take 25 minutes. The task of putting a well-rounded outline together hasn’t left them any time to practice to see how long the talk will actually last. Their nervousness is generally magnified once they stand at the lectern and they fail to ever look at the clock to pace themselves. They have one mission: get through their outlines and then sit down. They then plow through their 25 minutes of notes and sit down not realizing they have been unintentionally disrespectful to the other speakers and to the audience.
This inexperience causes the bishop to sweat, the other speakers to become frazzled since they now have to cut down their talk, and the audience is more distracted by the sideshow of everyone stressing out on the stand.
An in-depth discussion took place in the Leading Saints Helpers Facebook group about this topic (yes, you should join this group). Many noted how difficult it is to be that concluding speaker when the previous speaker takes up all of your time. Others talked about the agenda gymnastics the bishopric has to do in order to conclude the meeting on time, including skipping the intermediate hymn or musical number, asking the concluding speaker to simply bear a testimony, or just riding it out while the Sunday School teachers glare at the bishop.
After reading the discussion in the Leading Saints Helpers group the solution is found in two simple priorities: (1) bishopric preparation and communication, and (2) having the presiding authority ask someone to pass a note to the speaker reminding them that their time is up.
Bishopric Preparation & Communication
As the old proverb goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I would encourage any bishopric or ward council to review the article 3 Tips For Bishoprics That Lead to Better Sacrament Meeting Speakers. This article includes great tips on how a bishopric could effectively prepare and communicate to potential sacrament meeting speakers instructions that would lead to more spiritual meetings, or using a term from Elder Bednar, more spiritual revelatory experiences.
In short, the bishopric or presiding authority could communicate quickly with the member prior to the meeting and simply emphasize that the purpose of the meeting should be focused on the Savior and His gospel, and clarify when they expect them to conclude their remarks.
Gently Tell Them Their Time is Up
There is something awkward about passing the speaker a note as they stand at the lectern. Doing it feels like you are drawing attention away from the speaker. It can feel like you are embarrassing the speaker because everyone in the meeting knows you are telling them they have crossed a boundary. Though it feels that way for the member of the bishopric, it really isn’t that awkward. The reality is, it is the most simple solution to respect everyone involved in the meeting and to end on time.
I must admit, I have been the bishop that sits there thinking to himself, “the speaker is five minutes over, but I am sure they are nearly done.” Unfortunately the meeting would always get away from me and then I am doing my best to juggle the meeting agenda to get us out on time (because the Sunday School teachers will glare at me if I don’t).
With a little communication prior to the meeting, a passed note will help you be the hero and keep the meeting moving along. As a bishop, I did this by sending the speaker an email or letter after they were invited to speak in sacrament meeting (see the 3 tips article mentioned above). This letter would include the following paragraph:
“Please be sensitive to the time frame of your talk. Many speakers don’t realize how much time their prepared remarks will fill and often go over time or end too early. We encourage you to practice your remarks beforehand and adjust accordingly. During your remarks if you find that your talk will end early, that is OK. The bishopric will fill the remainder of the meeting. If you happen to go over your time we will kindly place a note on the lectern to remind you to wrap up your comments. We don’t do this to be rude but realize many people lose track of time as they share from their heart.”
If the bishopric hasn’t been able to send them a similar message before the sacrament meeting, it would be helpful to have a simple conversation with the speaker prior to the meeting, reminding them of their allotted time, and letting them know they might receive a note from the bishopric if they go over time.
This simple approach can save you from many awkward moments and keep the meeting on schedule.
What approach have you seen work best for keeping sacrament meeting on time? Please comment below to add to the conversation.