The Right Way to Ask a Question in a Virtual Meeting
If there’s one thing people are universally afraid in virtual meetings it is silence. And in particular, the deafening silence that descends after you ask a question. It’s a valid fear. The likelihood of someone responding to your question in a virtual meeting seems to decrease as the number of people in the meeting increases. So is there a right way to ask a question in a virtual meeting?
Asking question is one of our primary tools for engaging our audience and learning more about them. Fortunately, there is one key thing you can do – and one you can NOT do – to ensure your question gets answered and you open up a dialogue with your audience. But first, you have to understand what is happening to you, and what is happening to your audience when you ask a question in a virtual meeting. They are two very different experiences.
When you ask a question:
Most people cannot tolerate silence after they pose a question. It’s a very vulnerable position. After all you have no visible indication than anyone is considering answering because all of those small nonverbal cues we see in person are hard to pick up on video.
So once you pose the question and hear that silence, fear kicks in and your brain probably runs through a number of worst case scenarios, like “did anyone hear me?” “did that make sense?” “are they even listening?!” And after what FEELS like an eternity (but is more like three or four seconds) most questioners jump in and answer their own question.
Problem solved, right? Wrong!
Answering your own question sets a very dangerous precedent. Once you start answering your questions it will be even more difficult to get your future questions answered. Why? You’ve trained your audience that they don’t need to participate.
Why people don’t answer your question.
Before we complain about how unresponsive our audience is or vow never to ask a question again, it’s important to remember that people are simply more passive in a virtual environment. And it’s really not their fault. As humans we have been conditioned to settle into “receiver-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?” and more “shut up and pass the popcorn!”
So what can you do? Fortunately, two small adjustments can make a dramatic improvement in your response rate. Here’s one:
How to dramatically improve your response rate.
Take a breath. And start counting…to 17.
OK, maybe not 17, but that is how long it can take for someone in a virtual meeting to feel compelled to answer your question. Why? Because while you’re anxiously holding your breath during the interminable silence, here is what is happening in the minds’ of your audience:
Timeline for Responding to a Question in a Virtual Meeting
Question posed. (Remember, they didn’t know a question was coming!)
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: “I have the answer!!”
Want to test this out? The next time you’re in a virtual meeting and someone asks a question, notice what goes through your head and see if it doesn’t follow a similar pattern.
Besides sitting with that pause longer than feels comfortable (I recommend at least ten seconds), there is one more thing you can do that can will improve your response rate by as much as 90% in virtual meetings. Check it out here.
If you are ready to tap into the power of building personal virtual relationships through the screen, I’ve laid the path out for you in my new book that won the 2021 Gold Medal Top Sales Book, Look Me In the Eye: Using Video to Build Relationships with Customers, Partners and Teams. In it you’ll find all the steps and tactics you need to engage your audience.
Get your copy today on Amazon!