In a recent webinar Chaaya asked, "I've been told that you never want 'dead air' in a webinar? Is that good advice?"
It's common to take something we know in one context and apply it to a new situation. In this case, the idea of never having any silence hearkens from the world of radio (where, in fact, you don't want silence).
Webinars, webcasts, and virtual classrooms, however, are a different medium of communication. Other senses are involved, and designing an experience can use visual and kinesthetic (physical) possibilities for engaging the audience, too, and ideally they work together as a whole. Here are six ideas:
Shut up and show a sequence of visuals (that tell the story)
A narrator of a television documentary doesn't have to continuously run at the mouth…and neither do you. Would a sequence of images help unfold part of your story? Let it!
Finish a sentence with a slide
Imagine you're on one slide and as you're going to deliver the punchline you stop speaking and switch to the next slide (that makes your point). "One of the top fears of webinar presenters is that they imagine their audience…<picture of someone multitasking>."
Pause before a key point to add emphasis
Sometimes referred to as a "pregnant pause," pausing in advance to a key point builds up suspension for the audience. Result: Improved dramatic effect.
Pause after a key point to let it sink in
Adults bring pre-existing pre-suppositions, values, and knowledge along with them as they join your webinar. A pause after an important point gives them time to process. Result: Better retention.
Ask the audience to do something
Exactly what you'll ask them to do depends on the nature of the session. It could be to respond to a poll, do an exercise on their own, or take time to process an idea and share their response in chat. Heck, I've even done virtual training sessions where I've asked the audience to stand up and stretch (at their desks!). Give yourself permission to shut up during these, too.
Tip: For some things it's useful to show a timer to the audience that shows when you'll resume. If your web conferencing solution doesn't have one, pull up a free online countdown timer and show it to the audience.
Check the Q&A/chat
Unless you're a keynote speaker, you are probably accustomed to talking with your audience during a presentation or class. If you're not comfortable keeping an eye on the Q&A or chat while you're presenting, pause every once in awhile, check it, and respond. If it helps, let the audience know what you're up to.
The bottom line
Every one of these strategies have two things in common…timing and skill. How long should a pregnant pause be? How long should you leave a poll open or answer questions in the middle of a presentation? That's where skill comes in…something you can improve with practice and experience. So quit reading this and get to practicing your next presentation. :-) Good luck!