One of my standard tips for web presenters is never to stop talking without warning. Don’t make your audience wonder what just happened to you. If you need to pause to take a sip of water or read a user comment, tell your attendees what you are doing.
But today we need to examine the other side of the coin. Sometimes you need to stuff a sock in it.
The first situation is when your attendees need to read and interpret something complex on the screen. This should not happen often. Slides should support your vocal presentation… They should not be doing the heavy lifting of the presentation. But every now and then you may need to show something important and make sure that the audience has time to take it in.
Tell your attendees that you are going to be quiet while they read the slide. Reassure them that nothing is wrong with their audio. Then honor your promise. Shut up. If you feel they need more than about 10 seconds (which probably means you have a poorly designed slide), step in with a quick statement that you are going to give them another 5 or 10 seconds. Then go silent again.
The second case calling for your silence is more subtle and insidious. If you invite an attendee to speak (or another panelist if you are a moderator or co-presenter), turn things over to them clearly and unambiguously. I use the standard radio talk show phrase: “You’re on the air. Go ahead, please.” Then put yourself on mute. Why mute? Because you won’t even recognize the tiny intrusive sounds you make automatically as they talk. “Mm-hmm.” “Yeah.” “Uh-huh.” “Oh!”
As human beings, we are programmed to engage and respond in conversational situations. In person you can do this with small facial movements, gestures, and body language. But with an unseen participant, you naturally resort to using vocalizations to indicate your presence and attention. And you have no idea how irritating you come across to the other person and the audience! The other party stops for a moment because she is unsure of whether you are trying to break in with a comment or tell her something important. It interrupts the flow of her speech and it can easily seem rude and dismissive to the rest of the audience.
Let the other person have their say. Wait till they run all the way to the end of their statement. Then take yourself off mute and respond. At the end of the webinar, watch your evaluation scores go up.
By the way, this same tip applies to telephone audio conferences. It also applies to in-room presentations where you are miked and your audience is not. Force yourself to not make a single sound while they ask their question.