Silence: Rules of Thumb

If silence is important to encourage engagement by participants in webinars and online meetings AND if facilitators/presenters cannot rely on visual cues like we do in face-to-face situations…how can we know how much time to allow for participants to respond?

There are several factors at play:

  • what type of response you want (a simple Yes/No, a simple choice between pre-determined options, a complex choice between pre-determined options, a one-word answer, a short written answer, vocal response, a complex comparison, etc.)
  • what tool you will use to gather those answers/responses (poll, chat, whiteboard, etc.)
  • participants’ familiarity with the online tools
  • participants’ familiarity with the content
  • how many individuals are participating

So what can you do to insure that everyone has a chance to get their two cents in without losing those who are quick on their feet to other distractions?  Consider the chart below (click to enlarge).

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 11.15.26 AM

CHECK IT OUT:  Do an experiment with some colleagues.  Have them participate in a webinar that includes a variety of activities.  Time how long it takes for them to respond to each activity and afterwards, ask for their subjective experience…how did it feel as a participant?  Was there enough time?  Did they feel rushed?  Was there too much time?  Did they find themselves drifting away from the webinar?  Did they need/want some clues about the timing (e.g., stating “90 more seconds”, a countdown timer)?

See Silence: What’s Going On?

UPDATE:  The more webinars I do the more I realize how little wait time I am actually providing the participants.  Recently I had the opportunity to use a platform which gave me a timer for polls.  I started noting how long it took participants to register their poll answers.  Consistently it took at least 30 seconds more than I typically have allotted for the first participants to provide their response!  For example, Yes/No response times were 60-90 seconds (instead of the 30 seconds I had been giving).  CHECK IT OUT:  Use a timer to track how quickly answers start coming in and how long it takes for a majority of the participants to respond.  Use those data to inform your practice for future webinars.

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