Reduce That Awkward Silence In Virtual Meetings with this Simple (but Powerful) Tip
If there’s one thing people universally fear in virtual meetings it is silence.
In particular, the deafening silence that descends after you ask a question.
It’s a valid fear. Especially in larger meetings where the likelihood of receiving a response to your question decrease as the number of people in the meeting increases.
So how do you reduce that awkward silence in virtual meetings?
Most people’s response to this awkward silence is, unfortunately, to jump in and answer their own question. This sets a very dangerous precedent. Once down this path they find it even more difficult to get an answer later on. Worse than answering their own question, many people engage in a punctuation-free monologue that leaves out their audience entirely and causes major waves of tune out!
Why that awkward silence exists in virtual meetings
Before we complain about how unresponsive our audience is (or vow never to ask a question again), it’s important to remember that it’s not really their fault. People are simply more passive in virtual meetings than they are in person.
Think about your own on-line behavior. As humans we have been conditioned to settle into “receiving-mode” when seated in front of a screen. Whether it’s a computer or tablet screen, television or movie screen, it’s less: “what can I add to this conversation?” and more: ”shut up and pass the popcorn!”
Throw into this passive state the inability to detect small nonverbal (or often verbal) cues indicating listening or a desire to respond, and you start to see why silence in virtual meetings is the norm and not the exception.
So what can you do? There’s a lot of basic advice that works well in face-to-face meetings, e.g., using names, making questions easy to answer, etc. But those alone are ineffective for the hard-wired silence we face in virtual meetings.
There are two simple but powerful tips that are specific to reducing that awkward silence in virtual meetings. Here’s one:
A Simple Tip to Reduce The Awkwardness of Silence In Virtual Meetings
After asking a question take a breath. And start counting…to 17.
OK, maybe not 17, but that is how long it can take for a participant in a virtual meeting to feel sufficiently compelled to answer your question. Why? Because while you’re anxiously holding your breath during the interminable silence, here is what is happening internally to your audience members:
Audience Timeline for Responding to a Question
0-3 Seconds: Processing
– What do I think of that?
3-6 Seconds: Formulating
– Do I have an answer?
6-9 Seconds: Debating
– Should I share it?
9-12 Seconds: Negotiating
– Maybe Bob is going to answer…
12-15 Seconds: Pressure
– I guess Bob’s not going to answer. I’d better jump in:
15-17 Seconds: Unmuting self
17+ Seconds: Answer!!
I encourage you to test this out for yourself. The next time you’re in a virtual meeting, have a stopwatch in hand. Start it when someone asks a question and notice what goes through your head and see if it doesn’t follow a similar pattern and length of time before you feel compelled to answer.
Gain Confidence on Camera through Virtual Executive Presence:
This tip may be simple, but it’s not easy. Confidently sitting with that awkward silence longer than feels comfortable is one of the many learned skills that add up to having Virtual Executive Presence. If you’re in sales, a leader or an aspiring leader, learn how to be more confident and credible on camera by developing your Virtual Executive Presence here.
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