My last post dealt with the subtleties of “going quiet” while presenting in a webinar. Jim added a comment to that post and I think it’s interesting enough to address it as a separate issue. How do you keep interaction going when you ask for typed responses?
Jim pointed out that he sees many presenters waiting only a few seconds before plowing ahead. This has several negative consequences:
1) Your audience feels disrespected or shortchanged. You have asked them for a response and then you carry on as if the responses don’t matter. Why should they bother to interact with you for the rest of the session?
2) Your audience feels frustrated. They are trying to concentrate on formulating a response and simultaneously listen to whatever you are saying next. That is difficult.
3) You end up jumping back and forth in your presentation flow. You move on, then notice an interesting response and come back to the previous discussion point, then skip forward again. It’s like making a car lurch between forward and reverse. Not very comfortable for you or your passengers!
Remember what happens when you ask people to type in the chat box: They need to listen to and interpret the question. Think about their response. Find the right area to type in. Think about their phrasing and spelling to avoid public embarrassment. And then actually do the typing (which is slower for some than others – especially given the growing prevalence of smaller devices with poor keyboards).
There are several techniques you can use to help make typed chat work better in a web session. Here are a few that I like:
1) Start off your audience with something short and easy. Let them find the chat area and practice. Just ask them to type their first name, or where they are located. Then make sure to read out some of the responses. Show that this is true two-way interaction you are paying attention to.
2) Whenever possible, make your question clear and easy to interpret and ask for a short, easy to type response. Asking a loaded question that requires a long essay-style answer requires much more time to process and type. It’s harder for you to read through and understand the answers as well.
3) Ask your question, then give a sample response. “For instance, you might say that Christmas is your favorite holiday. I tend to see that response a lot. Let’s find out together what you and your peers think.” Giving a sample response lets people agree or disagree and points their brain in the right direction to formulate their own reply.
4) Put up some placeholder information on a slide while the audience is writing. I’m not a fan of unrelated content such as a cute cartoon or picture that bears no relation to the subject. But often you can put up some reference information, a short summary of the chunk of content that people are responding to, or even your question and a sample response. If you tell people that they can study the slide while others are typing, it gives you permission to be quiet longer.
5) If you don’t expect everybody to respond, tell the audience you will move on with a bit more information, then circle back to look at the responses that came in. I use this when asking for longer open-ended responses. Something like this: “If you happen to have a good example from your own experience, would you go ahead and type it in so we can all learn from it? In the meantime, I’ll continue with another example of my own, and then we’ll pause to see what you have written.”
6) Some web conferencing programs let the presenter see when audience members have started typing, even before their response comes in. omNovia and Adobe Connect are two examples off the top of my head. If you are lucky enough to have this functionality, use it. If nobody is typing, move on without a long uncomfortable delay. If you see indicators that someone is typing, let the audience know: “I see from my presenter dashboard that Ashok and Glynna are both typing answers, so let’s pause a moment and see what they come up with.” This gives you permission again to be quiet for a few more seconds, or to say something as a filler while the typists know you are going to wait for them. They don’t have to stop typing to listen to you.
7) If you have an engaged, highly interactive audience that has been responding with enthusiasm throughout your conference, people get more familiar and comfortable with the question/response process and the natural delays that occur when waiting for responses. As the session goes on, you can just shut up and let them type answers to your questions. Once they know the routine and are happily going along with it, your silence is not unexpected and gives them the opportunity to engage with you in the style to which they have become accustomed. Just be careful not to start your interactions this way… You have to develop the engagement process, and your audience may never get to the point where there is enough response to make this technique valid. You should only go completely silent when you are sure that most of your audience wants to concentrate and respond.
Typed chat is a spectacular feature of web conferencing, and it gives your audience an opportunity to interact with you in a way that is quite impossible in an in-room presentation. Take advantage of it with proper techniques and you will have a much more interesting and valuable web session.