Punishing Those Who Arrive on Time

The past few weeks I’ve attended a number of presentations and panel discussions. This is nothing unusual, as I try to learn something substantive while also observing how things go from my perch as a public speaking consultant.

I’ve long been struck by a phenomenon that seems not to occur to many conference organizers. It’s the timeworn habit of punishing audience members who arrive on time.

You’ve no doubt experienced it, too. Here’s what typically happens:

  • The program is announced as beginning at 10 a.m. This means the sponsoring organization has struck a deal with those in attendance to begin promptly at that hour.
  • Late arriving audience members straggle in.
  • The organizers decide to hold off until more people arrive.
  • 10 a.m. comes and goes with no sign of the panelists.
  • Ten minutes later, they come drifting through the doorway, then take a few moments to get settled.
  • The moderator begins with predictably trite remarks thanking the panelists, reading their (too long) bios, and telling you stuff about the organization you already know. Not once, however, does he apologize for wasting the audience’s time by starting late.

Late girl with watch

Let me be blunt. This is inconsiderate and insulting. If your event is scheduled to start at 10 a.m., for heaven’s sake, start at 10 a.m.

It doesn’t matter that the crowd isn’t yet as big as you’d hoped. People are delayed by traffic or a glitch on the subway system? Tough. You would think we’d all be savvy enough by now to realize that we need to add in a couple of extra minutes for travel time.

Those who wait for late arrivals are insulting those who adhered to the agreement by getting to their seats at the appointed hour.

I admit that, when I’m in the audience during this type of fiasco, I make a point of looking at my watch in hopes someone will get the message. I’ll also admit that this tactic generally proves futile since some conference planners have little idea of what “on time” means and how disrespectful it is to start the proceedings late.

This attitude also applies to many business meetings. I’ve been a member of boards and committees over the years that have habitually dragged their feet when it comes to calling things to order. That’s bad enough. But when someone (often a presiding officer) insists on bringing late arrivals up to speed by recapping matters…well, I suspect the steam coming out of my ears is normally visible. If the laggards fail to respect their obligation to the rest of the group, they’ll just have to play catch up. They get no sympathy from me.

Think about it. How many times just in recent weeks have you been insulted by a group that punishes those who arrive on time?



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