Taking a pause and asking your participants if they have any questions is a very natural process when you're running a workshop face-to-face. You can scan the room, read everyone's faces and body language, and intuitively sense whether you should wait a little longer for questions or go ahead and move on. Virtual workshops, however, go by a different set of rules. Unless you're using a tool that lets you look around the virtual room as naturally as you do in person, like Seshboard, the silence you experience may feel awkward - like dead air.
In this situation, the temptation to rush through the silence might be strong. "No questions? OK? Great. Moving on..." No questions, no problem, right? Probably not. In fact, it's very likely your participants did have questions in mind - they just didn't have time to come to the surface. In this article I'll share three tips that can help ensure your online workshop participants have a chance to ask their questions, without the dead air and awkward silences.
Top Tips For Making Virtual Workshop Q&A Feel More Natural
1. "Seed" Questions
This technique, which comes from Shannon Tipton and was featured in Knowmium's Radically Remote course, is simple but effective: after asking your participants what questions they have about the concept you've just explained, "seed" the participants' minds by giving some specific examples of the different things they might want additional clarification on.
For example, if I had just finished explaining Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and opened the discussion to Q&A, I would then give a few specific hypothetical examples, such as "you might be unclear on whether something falls under 'esteem needs' or 'self-actualization,' or you may be wondering how this model fits in to your own life, whether personally or professionally..."
This technique is particularly effective because it gives participants the time and support they need as they move through the three-part process of formulating their questions:
First, participants need to process that you're asking for responses from them. To achieve this in an online setting, it's best to solicit responses from the audience by asking them a specific question, rather than a vague and general one. For example, it's better to ask "what questions do you have about the differences between the five stages of Maslow's Hierarchy?" than "do you have any questions about this discussion so far?"
Second, participants need time to THINK of a question. Seeding helps trigger questions in participants' minds by bringing their attention to things they may not have even realized they don't fully understand. In addition, as you're taking the time to provide examples, you're also providing time for participants to formulate their own questions, without the pressure of dead air.
Finally, participants need time to ASK their question. For many online workshop participants, this means typing their questions into the chat box or a Q&A platform, or waiting a few moments to make sure nobody else is about to speak before they start asking their question live in front of the group. After allowing a reasonable amount of time to pass for questions to emerge, you can ensure you aren't cutting anyone off by doing a final check-in. For example, you could ask your participants to give you a thumbs-up or hit the smiley-face reaction button if they don't have any questions, or to raise their hand if they're still typing out their question.
2. Use a Q&A Tool Like Mentimeter or Slido
Oftentimes in an online workshop setting, participants prefer to type out their questions rather than speak up in front of the group. Instead of relying on the chat box for this, you should consider using a dedicated Q&A tool like Mentimeter or Slido. These tools provide a dedicated space for your participants to post their questions throughout the workshop session, as well as read and upvote their fellow participants’ questions. This means that when you take a break for Q&A, you can start by immediately addressing the questions that have come in so far, without worrying about whether questions have been "buried" by other messages in your chat box, and give more priority and attention to those questions that have been upvoted by multiple participants.
Tools like Mentimeter and Slido can do much more than just handle your Q&A - they can also help you run polling and quizzes, create live word clouds and more. If you're interested in learning more about Mentimeter and Slido, check out this article I wrote on how these tools can boost engagement in your online workshop.
3. Run workshops in a more natural-feeling virtual training room
Seshboard is a live online training and workshop facilitation tool designed specifically for engagement. In Seshboard, everyone is seated at tables in a customizable virtual training room, creating a more natural and intimate environment for your sessions. When pausing for questions, you can easily look around the room, from table to table, and get a better sense of where your participants are at in the process of formulating their questions. Consider booking a personal demo with us if you're interested in learning more.
It's harder to rely on cues like body language and eye contact when you're facilitating workshops online, which can make pauses and silences feel relatively unnatural. By following the two tips described in this article, you can ensure that your participants are given the time and space they need to formulate their questions, without creating awkward silences and dead air.
Interested in learning more about how to maximize your participants' engagement during online workshops? Check out the other articles in our Guide to Online Engagement.