We’ve all had awkward silences in our life whether it’s a one to one conversation or in a group conversation. And you’ve probably been to a workshop or a conference or a training where the presenter has put a question out there and nobody responds.

In this blog I am going to give you some tips on what to do in that circumstance in the group context.

  1. It’s A ok

Uncomfortable silences will happen to everybody at some point. The first and most important thing to remember is that it’s A ok. Don’t panic. If you make it a massive deal of it you will make your audience feel really uncomfortable. And then you will have to re-connect and re-engage with them.  Don’t read into it anything more than what it is. Take a deep breath. Staying calm will allow you to be able to put in some strategies to change it.

2. Consider the purpose of your question

What’s your purpose of the question? What is the right format for asking that question?  Sometimes we ask a question just because we think it’s a clever question. Or we ask a question just because we think we are on a roll. The audience may not be ready for that question yet. Or the type of question that you are asking really isn’t conducive to an open format.

You might ask something that’s quite vulnerable that people might not feel appropriate answering in front of everybody else. Pick your question and give your audience the appropriate strategy to answer that question. For example, instead of a big wide public question, it could be a pair share. Share with the person next to you and discuss the question. Then pick some people to share from there. You could have a group discussion on it and then hear from each table. 

3. Give it time

You’ve stood in front of the audience, asked the question and….crickets. That noise of nothing. Give your audience time to respond. Sometimes that time in our head is a lot longer than what it actually is in real life. Your audience need some time to reflect on the question. They need time to process it. Then they’ve got to work out their answer before finally sharing it.

4. Tell a joke

Not the “why- did -the -chicken -cross -the -road” type of joke but make the silence a bit of a joke. I’ve stood there and said something like “Well I could wait all day you know I’m here for the rest of the day so I can wait for you”. Making it a bit of a joke will break the ice a little bit.

5. Re-frame the question

 Consider asking the question in another way.

Maybe you’ve made the question too much of a closed question. Maybe you’ve made the question too much of an open question. Or maybe the question is too specific and nobody has an example. Or maybe you’ve made the question too vague and the people are really tackling with it.

6. Read your audience

Understand your audience. Maybe they are just not a sharing audience. I’ve had instances where I’ve run the same content from one group to another and that group was just not a sharing group.

Read your audience and look for opportunities to single someone out to ask a question. There may be people in the audience that you know would be ok with answering your question. Word of caution here: make sure the person you choose is definitely comfortable with this. The last thing you want to do is single someone out and make them feel uncomfortable. Also make sure they can contribute to the question to add value to the rest of the group.

Remember, if you ask a question and you get crickets, it’s not the end of the world. Ask the question, re-set, breathe, check the type of question and then move on.

Have you ever asked a question and got silence in return? How did you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts, drop me a line [email protected] or comment below in the “comments” box.

Here is a YouTube video on this topic