Yes it's easy to do.
If you've ever organised an event, be it birthday bash, office presentation or any situation which involves asking someone else to 'say a few words' you would have experienced the phenomena known as speaker-going-on-too-long. It's extremely tempting to ask them to hurry it up with a discreet gesture when you finally manage to catch their eye. Unfortunately this can have devastating consequences for the speaker and derail him/her completely.
Going-on-too-long is easily done when a speaker is in his/her stride, but can stress the backstage team and have the audience sigh with relief when you finally finish; hardly the experience you want your speech to be remembered by.
I recall a yoga conference – with an audience of several hundred – we had a guest dance act waiting in the wings but the speaker showed no sign of stopping. The audience were engaged enough but there was a long programme of acts ahead there was panic in the backstage ranks.
I was lighting designer and my lighting desk was front-of-house so I had an audience perspective aswell as a backstage perspective – the wonder of headphones.
In the end someone walked on stage – while she was mid-sentence – and whispered something into her ear; the result was catastrophic. The speaker was a very good one you see and her content was engaging, if a bit long, but she could have exited with more grace than she eventually did. She got nervous and ended her presentation with uncertainty and a quick exit. It was such a shame.
One needs to believe in one's own fabulousness, you see, when giving a presentation. Confidence is everything. If you don't believe you are interesting, you're sunk. So to be told mid-speech that everyone wants you to finish NOW would de-rail anyone.
Here's what the stage manager could have done…
Positioned herself in full view of the speaker (preferably in the front row of the audience) and raised a piece of paper which says ' 5 more minutes' on it and WAITED until the speaker saw her.
In situations like these don't try and get the speaker's attention, that will distract them too much and (worse) let the audience know that they've gone-on-too-long. Once that's been communicated the audience will stop listening and start to fidget, which will put the speak off further.
So just hold the paper and wait. After they have seen you and nodded, you can wait another 3 minutes and then raise another piece of paper saying '2 minutes' This will allow the speaker time to work out how they are going to conclude.
I have heaps and heaps of other tips and tricks which I've found to work, and if anyone has a senario they'd like to share then do drop a comment on this blog and I'll try and offer some solutions.