Webinars: 8 Ways to Guarantee Audience Participation

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I’m Talking, Is Anyone Listening?

You could be excused when hosting a virtual event for wondering sometimes if anyone is out there. This is perplexing for even seasoned facilitators. That pause after saying ‘Does anyone have any questions or comments?’ …. and …. nothing, just silence. 

You cannot always get your audience to talk, but as a facilitator, it is a whole lot more gratifying when you know you are not alone in your virtual space. 

These tips may help encourage your audience to interact, and help you break that silence.

1. Schedule your event to start 10 minutes earlier 

Create a calendar invite that includes warm up time. The 10 minutes prior to the event can be like the ‘watercooler’ chat and allow participants to get to know each other as well as test their sound and mic before the main event starts. Without a audio precheck, some participants may be uncertain to speak up as they don’t know if their equipment is connected, especially so for sessions using VOIP. 

2. Inform

Let your participants know that there will be interaction, let them know they may be called upon to speak and let them know in advance to have the right equipment and be in a quiet location where possible. When people know what is likely to happen, they will feel safe and be more willing to contribute.

3. Consider open offices

Many workers are in open plan offices and do not feel comfortable voicing opinions. They may feel self-conscious knowing what they say may be overheard or be wary of background noise. Encourage use of chat and other interactive tools beside verbal responses to help keep everyone engaged and involved.

4. Make it fun!

Icebreakers are a great way to get people talking or interacting. Start an event with an opportunity for people to introduce themselves. This is often done in a chat panel. Getting people to come off mute and say hello also helps to break the ice and serves as a test for their mic. Icebreaker topics can be something different to the content of the session and be something everyone could have an opinion about. Perhaps ask what the last thing they ate was – this can generate a few laughs and interaction. The more fun everyone has; the more likely learning and interaction will occur.

5. Interact frequently

Pause for comments, thoughts, experiences and not just questions and don’t wait till the end to do it. Have your audience engaged throughout by integrating polls, chat activities, problem solving and messy whiteboard activities, ideally every 3 to 5 minutes. Audience size for some of these activities needs to be considered as a whiteboard with more than 20 people could lose effectiveness. Chat however is always an option.

6. Ask for volunteers then voluntell

It is always great when people freely interact, however with a stagnant audience, it may mean you need to call people out. If they know this can happen at the outset, they will expect it. When the pressure is on, you might just find your volunteers crawl out of the woodwork. Don’t forget to pause for long enough to allow participants to come off mute.

7. Your content is an extension of you

Some facilitators may seem largely disengaged from their content as they go through the motions of reading their scripts. Be familiar with your script, understand the objectives of the session and focus on the outcomes. Rehearse enough times so you don’t sound like you are reading. Modulate the tone and variety in your voice to add interest. If you don’t do this, a good word to describe your presentation could be – BORING!

8. Listen and learn

If your event went off with deathly silence, take the opportunity to listen to the recording where available and act like you are the participant. Ask is it fun? Is it interactive? Is it interesting? We can learn a lot when we revisit our own steps and see and hear what others experience.

Just because one session went off flat, it doesn’t mean the next one will. Keep practicing and see what works for you. Get familiar with your tool sets and use a producer to reduce your cognitive load so you can focus on delivery. Attend other virtual events as a participant and see what other people do well. This is still a new space for many. As with learning to walk, expect to fall over a few times before you can run.

About the Author: Vivien Hudson

Vivien fell into the virtual world around the time she moved from Australia to the US in 2013. She has a diverse past from working in healthcare as a pharmacist and business owner to sales, coaching and brain fitness. She has led a national remote team and now works with Virtual Gurus developing virtual mastery and presence.  

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family of 3 kids, nature where she can unplug, cooking and reading anything that relates to EQ, connection and self-leadership.

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