I love reading Sue Pelletier’s blog about face-to-face meetings, conferences, and conventions. It often gives me excellent fodder for my webinar-related musings. Sometimes it’s the similarities between the online and in-room meeting environments that catches my eye and sometimes it’s the differences.
Sue recently wrote about the difficulty with taking questions at the end of an in-person presentation. She referenced a situation where a presenter asked for questions and got nothing from the audience. Then later, “the presenter was inundated with IMs from the younger folks in the crowd, who thought it would be rude to take up everyone’s time with their questions in person.”
Add that to the many other reasons people don’t speak up in crowds. They might not be comfortable speaking in public and having many eyes on them. They might be afraid of sounding stupid. They might have difficulty finding the right way to phrase the question.
As a presenter on a web seminar, you can offer your audience a much more comfortable and inviting environment in which to ask questions. They aren’t seen by anybody else and they don’t have to stand up and show off their bad haircut or stained shirt. They can look at their question as they type it and change wording that doesn’t sound quite right.
Still, the built-in advantages might not be enough to get the participation you want in your Q&A session. So here are some things you can do to help promote interaction from your audience.
1) Get people used to typing in their console early and often. Ask a question or two that is easy and fun. Ask people to type their first name, or identify a picture taken from a TV show or movie. You want them to learn that interaction is expected, natural, and non-threatening.
2) Refer to questions and comments throughout your presentation if you can. Just a quick offhanded remark can let people know that their contributions are being noticed. “Karen says she agrees with that. Thanks, Karen!”
3) When possible, refer to questioners by first name only. This builds a personal connection, but doesn’t identify them to the public. It’s the perfect match between recognition and privacy.
4) Avoid the phrase “That’s a good question.” If you overuse it you sound insincere. If you use it on some and not others, you imply that some questions aren’t as “good.” Try alternate phrases such as “I’m glad you asked this question, because it gives me a chance to…” “Interesting… Let’s take a look at that.”
5) ALWAYS have seed questions ready to cover slow spots. Read them as if they came from the audience (announce a fake first name). People tend to start asking questions when they hear other people asking questions.
6) Keep your energy up, up, up! If you give a big sigh at the end of your presentation and read off questions in a bored tone of voice because you’ve heard them all before, nobody is going to want to play with you. Be enthusiastic about the opportunity to interact with your audience. Make them believe you LOVE doing Q&A!