The power of a live webinar or virtual class is, well, it's live. There's something inherently engaging about real people connecting with real people.
The challenge for some presenters and facilitators, however, is that the on-the-fly stuff is a missed opportunity for engagement and/or creates negative momentum. Here are a dozen idea for changing that up.
1. Plan content in chunks that lend themselves to dialogue breaks
Breaking up the ongoing drone of one voice doing all the talking is a good idea. A better idea is to plan the places you talk with delegates, both for questions and just to get their input. If you don’t do it naturally, plan your content (and slides) to provide “white space” for interactions.
2. Be extra diligent about the disfluencies (ums, ahs, and fillers)
You heard it in your Toastmasters group, but it’s worth repeating. Impromptu responses increase the risk you’ll want to buy yourself time to think - and this is amplified when online. Instead, just pause or take a short inhalation where you need the pause.
3. Give yourself permission to pause
What feels like forever to you probably doesn’t to your audience. They will especially NOT miss it if you are growing in your mastery of pace and pause in speaking in general.
4. Consider “PSA” ("point, story, application")
It’s not the only way to answer a question, but one way to do it powerfully is to 1) state your “point” and then support it with 2) a “story” (or illustration, example, etc.), and 3) then share the “application” (“so what this means you're going to do is…”).
5. Tell the audience what you’re doing
You might find it useful to simply let folks know that you’re going to pause to look at their feedback and answer their questions. It’s not what I do, but it’ll help alleviate that feeling of dread silence.
6. Keep the questions/chat pane/pod/window open
Dialogue is more natural when in real time. The more clicks away from it you are, the less natural it is. Open up a window where you can see them in real time.
7. Look back at the camera
It’s engaging for a viewer when you make eye contact with them. To do that, you’ll need to make eye contact with a camera. After you see their question, look at the camera to answer it.
8. Point people to other resources so you can keep your answer shorter
Some topics are worth additional explanation. And while that answer is especially relevant to the person who just asked the question, it may not be for someone else, hence the value of being concise. Sometimes you don't have to give a long answer when it's easy to tell them where to go learn more.
9. Be conversational
There’s a time to present, and there’s a time to converse. Don’t get so wrapped up in looking good that you miss the most powerful engagement tool of all…being you.
10. Ask the audience for their input to the question before you answer
There are a couple variations of ways to do this. First, read everybody the question, say something like, “What advice would you have for Bill?”
Then while you answer Bill’s question, people have a chance to type their responses. Follow up what you say by being the voice of the audience (e.g., “Amanda says…”, “Oh, and Julie entirely disagrees with me, and she points out that…”).
Alternatively, you can defer giving your own answer. Whether you just pause or take another question, either means that when you get to answering Bill’s question, the audience has weighed in (again, you’re likely reading out their answers), and then you can tack on your point of view. This is especially useful if you want to have the last word or take the pulse of the audience before weighing in on the topic.
11. Ask a clarifying question
“Hey Bill, thanks for your question, but let me make sure I understand…” Then as you’re waiting for Bill to type in the follow up, you need to make the same choice as just mentioned…wait for it or do/say something else in the meantime.
12. Say AND show AND share
Sometimes the best thing you can say is what you demonstrate. If, as part of giving a response, you can improve your impact by dropping out of full-screen PowerPoint and show something that supports your point, do it.
Bonus: if it's a resource like a web page, copy/paste the URL and use "chat to all" so participants can look at it later.
Example: I recently fielded a question from someone asking about using two computers or monitors. Since I’d just blogged about it, I gave ‘em a one-liner…AND navigated the audience to my blog, copied the link to the post, and used “chat to all” to share with everyone.
The bottom line
Thinking on your feet is a good skill to practice, online or off. To be fair, the mechanics change a bit when you’re online, but it’s not hard, just different. Start with analyzing what you do offline, and you’ll be surprised how natural you can be when you map that to a set of tools to accomplish the same thing in your webinar or virtual class.