Having focused on the human factor in meetings, we want to also reflect on a meeting moment that everyone eagerly awaits but often no one has planned for very well: the closing.

Closings can be formal, ceremonial, creative, extended or brief, but above all they must transmit a very clear signal that the event is over and the participants are free to leave.

Not planning the closing activities carefully and/or not respecting the specified time for ending are lost opportunities. The group loses the chance to pause and recognize the significance of what they have accomplished together. The meeting convener loses the opportunity to be warmly appreciated by the group. Instead, the participants feel trapped, frustrated and embarrassed as they try to slip away unnoticed. And the facilitator is silently wondering, “Where did I go wrong?”

Keys to creating satisfactory closings

  • Discuss the convener´s expectations about the closing when you begin planning the event.
  • Clarify the difference between closing activities and the moment when people can leave without apologizing.
  • Include “closing activities” and “closing time for the entire event” as part of the agenda.
  • Review the time set for closing at the beginning of the meeting.
  • If for any reason the closing time is modified, announce the change and mark it on the public, written agenda.
  • Respect the agreed-upon closing time.

How to conduct a simple, ceremonial closing

  • If you have run out of time with a with a group of 30 or fewer participants:
    • Invite everyone to stand in a circle and then, as the facilitator, look around the circle and simply say “thank you.”
    • Or form the circle and then make a silent gesture of thanks.
  • If you have a few minutes to spare:
    • Make a circle and ask each person to “check out” with one word that describes “How am I feeling now, as I leave?” or “What am I taking away from this meeting?”
    • Avoid the temptation to enter into more discussion about what is said.

What about closing speeches?

In more formal events, the organizers often want to summarize the conclusions produced during the meeting or ask the authorities to “say a few words.” These situations easily lead to long, pointless speeches that cause participants to head for the door. To prevent this scenario, during the agenda-planning phase, propose ways to make the closing meaningful to all those present, not just those in the front of the room.

If you lose this argument, assign a time limit for the closing speakers and before the event, explain to each of them the importance of respecting these limits in order to close at the agreed-upon hour. Then politely but firmly enforce those time limits. The group will be grateful!

Remember, from the point of view of the participants, the closing is often one of the most eagerly awaited moments in the meeting. (Breaks are another.) If people do you the honor of attending, reciprocate by treating them and their time with respect, considering the human factor in every moment, from the opening to the closing.