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That awkward silence before your virtual meeting starts…

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You’ve got your presentation all ready to go. Participants are logging on and getting situated. It’s going to be a great virtual meeting on WebEx, Zoom, 8×8, GoToMeeting, etc. You don’t want to officially begin before the publicized start time. Yet the silence is … deafening.(Did I just hear a cricket?)

How to fill that semi-awkward silence during the couple minutes before your videoconference or webinar gets rolling? Whether it’s a casual meeting for just a handful of clients or a large virtual event, we have some ideas that not only fill the void but help put attendees at-ease and build engagement.

1. First things first: Let them know they’re in the right place!

The most elementary way to fill that gap is to simply welcome everyone who’s already logged on, and let them know things will get started on time. Reiterate your name, the title of the event, and the start time. Have a slide visible that also states this information. That way callers know they’re in the right place, and can confirm their audio is working properly.

2. Get to know the “chat” function

If it’s an official presentation for a larger audience, you can draw your attendees’ attention to the chat function and how it works – the user interface varies between platforms. It’s a videoconference best practice to mute the audience so you’re not competing with the background noise of multiple participants. The chat function enables them to participate or ask questions without the added noise distractions. You might want an intro slide with a fun question and an explanation of how your audience can respond via the chat function.

3. Use chat or polls for a fun icebreaker*

Why not have a little fun before the main event gets underway? Some online platforms have a “poll” feature (see footnote below) or you can ask participants to answer an icebreaker via chat. It’s a great way to engage your audience and make a more personal connection right off the bat. Here are a few crowd-pleasers sure to get people interacting:

Icebreakers for large groups and people who don’t know each other yet:

  • Emoji Check: Reply with the emoji that best describes you today
  • Where in the World: If you could be anywhere in the world today, where would you want to be?
  • Where is the Best ____?: Pick a subject like “best pizza” or “best beach” and let everyone reply with their personal faves.

Icebreakers for smaller groups who have worked together before:

Fun topics include…

  • My first job was _____
  • The last thing I watched on TV was _____
  • The last book I read was _____
  • My favorite dessert is _____

4. Prepare something fun or thought-provoking to share ahead of time

Do a little prep work and put together a pre-show slide or activity to keep things interesting.

  • Favorite Quote: For a large group, post a slide with your favorite inspirational or “life wisdom” quote. Let everyone know the story behind it. It’s a quick way for attendees to get a little more insight into you or the organization you represent.
  • Tell a Joke: For a recent marketing strategy webinar, the presenter asked a muted audience “What’s a personality trait of a bad marketing professional? … They’re Anti-Social.” The presenter smiled and looked comfortable in the silence while attendees LOL’d, rolled eyes, or applauded in the chat box. Then she said, “What is a pirate’s favorite type of marketing? … A webinARRRRR.” And with that she filled in the 3 minutes before the event and segued right into “Today’s WebinARRRRR…” like a pro, and right on time.
  • Guess Who: For a small group that knows each other, have everyone send in childhood portraits. Before your meeting, put the photos on display and let everyone guess who’s who!
  • Personality Test: Have participants take a brief or funny personality test (yes, even a Buzzfeed quiz will do if it’s work-appropriate!). Discuss the results before your meeting gets underway.

5. Go on tour

This is one you’ll want to save for a small group of folks you already know. Give the audience a little tour of your immediate surroundings. Maybe there are some family photos on the shelf, an interesting new read in the bookcase, or your kids’ latest school project. Letting your audience get to know you helps them form a personal connection before you’ve even started talking.

6. Embrace the Silence

Some event organizers choose to stay silent and inactive until the moment the event is to start and then launch the moment the meeting time strikes. In some settings it works and attendees don’t mind so long as the event is punctual. But a little bit of a prepared “pre-show” not only rewards those who joined early, but also shows that you planned out every detail including an entertaining way to fill that pre-event awkward silence.

Keep it light, keep it quick, and of course keep it work-appropriate! Use your time wisely as an opportunity to connect and interact. Perhaps the only potential downside here is having too much fun –make sure your silence-filler wraps up promptly and doesn’t delay or distract from the main event.

*Bonus: Quick tutorials to create a poll for Zoom or WebEx:

WebEx: Use the “Poll” feature to (demo here) to ask a question and get feedback ASAP (via WebEx)

Zoom: Use the “Polling Feature” (demo here) to ask a question or create a quiz.