That awkward silence

Workshops can be great, and the best bit is often the discussions to be had with the other participants in smaller groups. In real life, it can take a few minutes for the conversation to get going, but the facilitator is always on hand to guide the groups and make sure everyone knows what’s expected.

On line workshops are a different matter. How often have you been put into a break-out zoom room for a discussion and no-one really knows how to get it started?

Oh no! Am I expected to say something?| This better by worth my time…| (multitasking, doesn’t realise eyes are on them) | Say something, I’m listening

After two years of working from home or hybrid working you would think that we would be used to it by now but, nope, there is always an awkward silence, even if you know the other people in the group.

Real live, in person events may be back, but online workshops are here to stay and can be a really great way to network and learn, so make the most of them.

Here’s some of my tips how to make the best use of on-line break out sessions.

  • Quickly summarise the topic of discussion, and what the group has to do (note to organisers, put the discussion topics in the chat so people can refer to them)
  • Get everyone to introduce themselves, but only if there is time. Not worth it for a 5 minute break out. Start with yourself and stick to name, company, job title. I haven’t put this item first, as the conversation topic should be the focus, not the status of the participants
  • Be aware of how long you have been talking, try to make your contributions succinct. Time is usually much more limited in zoom discussions than in person meetings, and when you get pulled back into the main session you can’t carry on with your group chat
  • Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute. If someone is quiet, ask for their thoughts. Not everyone needs to speak, but make sure no one person dominates, no matter how knowledgeable they appear to be
  • After a few minutes, check that you are still on track to cover everything by referring back to the guidance for the breakout session. It’s easy to get sidelined into an interesting conversation, but you are there to learn about a particular topic
  • Does someone need to report back in the main session? Don’t waste time allocating at the beginning of the break out, but choose someone before the end of the chat. If someone has been particularly knowledgable and/or has been taking notes, put them forward, if they are willing. Be prepared to do it yourself, if no one else is keen
  • When reporting back, keep it short! Stick to the main conclusions of your group. If you are one of the last groups to report, you may want to just reinforce one point that has been made by other groups.
  • Bonus tip. Are you aware of how long you are talking? Even making a short point takes longer than you think and it’s harder to gauge when you are talking to a screen. I’ve started running a stopwatch on my phone when in on-line groups, partly to keep track of the session time, but also to make sure I’m not rabbiting on for more than a couple of minutes (less if it’s a really short break out).

Published by Fiona

Fiona was once a hands-on scientist and still has a curious mind. She combines strategic thinking with an entrepreneurial attitude and the ability to make great connections. She also takes photos.

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