Asking Questions In Online Meetings

What happens when you ask a question of a group of people?

As I’ve mentioned before, whenever someone hears a question, their attention is directed in a specific way. It’s almost impossible not to go inside and search for the answer.

If you’re in a one-on-one conversation, convention usually dictates that the person will also answer out loud. To do otherwise, letting the silence hang in the air, is almost unbearable…

And in a face-to-face group setting, the same thing happens. When I ask a group a question, and keep quiet, someone will eventually break the silence and offer an answer.

For example, I might ask, “What would you like to have happen in this meeting?” People might take a moment to think, but eventually, someone will speak… even if it’s to say, “I don’t really know, I thought you had the agenda!”

But something rather different seems to happen in online meetings with more than two people. The effect is particularly marked in audio-only conference calls, but also happens in video calls.

When I ask a question of the whole group, often nobody will answer. Silence doesn’t seem to have the same effect online: people don’t speak up to end it. Presumably, they don’t feel the same kind of social pressure.

[bctt tweet=”Silence doesn’t seem to have the same effect online: people don’t speak up to end it.” username=”judyrees”]

So when I ask, “What would you like to have happen in this meeting?” I can wait… and wait… and wait… and eventually somebody may say, “Has the line gone dead?”

But I’ll rarely get an answer unless I call on a specific person – “What would you like to have happen in this meeting…. Mary?” – or ask everyone to respond at once, in a chat window or poll, for example.

This seems to be one of the main ways that facilitating an online group is quite different to facilitating a face-to-face group.

  • Have you noticed anything similar? Or is your experience different? Please comment below.

1 thought on “Asking Questions In Online Meetings”

  1. I used to do a lot of conference calls (that’s how we called it, ‘back in the days’;). Usually the flow depended on the nature of a call. If it was a generic meeting, to discuss what is happening, but in a semi-casual way, yes, there used to be an awkward silence after each question. When, however, we were discussing actions around a process to be completed, when every member of the call had to prioritise their time and effort, there was no need to address questions to specific people. It was rather the other way round: all tried to speak at the same time… I figured out the best way to deal with such situation, in the cases where I was the call organiser, was to have a plan of how the call would look like. And share it with all at the beginning of an online meeting (putting an agenda in a call invite was a common practice, but never really worked, since hardly anyone would read it before the call anyway). It was simple yet very helpful: a justification to address certain questions to certain people during a call, and it allowed to finish such meeting on time. Which was an achievement on its own:)

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