Steve Willis is a master trainer and vice president of professional services at VitalSmarts.
Put yourself in this situation. You’re in front of a class, scanning the group carefully. All eyes are fixed on you. You’ve just asked a question of the group, and now you’re waiting each other out. Who will respond first? Who will break the uncomfortable silence? Waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting.
In my experience, whoever speaks first in this situation sets the tone for the session. When a participant breaks the silence first, it establishes a shared expectation that the session should and will be interactive. When the presenter speaks first—and this happens all too often—it establishes a different expectation that all the participants have to do is sit back and listen.
So here’s how I tell people to navigate this crucial moment: give ’em the ol’ ask and wait. That’s right. This old standby always seems to do the trick. You ask a question and then—here’s the tricky part—wait . . . for at least 10 seconds. And while those 10 seconds will seem like an eternity, remember that you typically only have to wait them out once before the audience starts to respond and participate.
Don’t answer your own questions. Give ’em the ol’ ask and wait and draw upon the wisdom that resides in the group’s collective experience.