Can Everyone Take Themselves Off Mute

Posted by: Claire Shields - Posted on:

Originally published by Claire Shields – 3rd September 2020

Has anyone leading a recent virtual meeting been brave enough to ask that? 

You know how it goes, normally the request from the chair of a virtual meeting is “can everyone put themselves on mute?” This is useful to avoid the distraction of background noise from children/cats/tumble driers especially if you have tens or hundreds of attendees…but the message it sends to your audience is that you only require their passive attention, they will not be called up to speak – therefore they only need to ‘sort of’ pay attention. 

But is this really what you want? Of course not, if your meeting is just a monologue then it is not a meeting, it’s an email. 

So, what to do about engaging your audience while avoiding the pitfalls of the “unmute all” button?

In Horizons we have used Slido, the online audience interaction tool to quickly gather large volumes of data, responses, and opinions from the room (virtual or otherwise). You can quickly ask hundreds of people to review an idea, evaluate their responses and suggest better ones. We have used this to great effect at both physical events and more recently in the virtual space too. The developers inform me that their software can handle the equivalent of a football stadium of people…. challenge accepted, imagine the amount of data!

There are three main ways you can get your audience to interact with your content:

  1. Question and answer
  2. Polls
  3. Idea boards

This blog is not meant to be instructional; I’m not here to teach you the practicalities of how to set up each of these functions, the developers have done a superb job with some online videos that do a better job than I could. What I want to share is real world experience of what worked…and what did not.

Firstly there’s great news for the introverts! Finally your idea can be shared without having to patiently wait for the extroverts in the group to be quiet. I like Slido because it levels the playing field and avoids the dialogue being dominated by the loudest voices.

More great news: contributors can stay anonymous. I am not encouraging poor professional behaviour or hijacking a meeting for your own gains – the benefit to giving participants anonymity is that people can be free to share their thoughts and opinions candidly without fear of criticism or feeling silly.

If the subject matter is sensitive or controversial there is the potential for more difficult comments to appear so it is vital to anticipate the kind of challenges people might raise and plan how you will respond. 

In addition, it is worth bearing in mind that anonymity gives people a level of freedom that has the potential to invite poor behaviour. This has not happened in my experience of leading sessions that include Slido, but it’s always worth thinking about how you might mitigate it so that you know can keep the sesson on track should it happen to you. 

There are two lessons important lessons I’ve learned using audience interaction tools; anonymity makes people brave so you must be braver in accepting their remarks and being ready to respond even to the most challenging of questions in the spirit of open engagement. Also your participants know full well that their responses are providing you with a wealth of data, so be sure to ask the most pertinent questions to get good quality information, if you ask participants to work too hard they will disengage, you’ve got to get the balance right so people feel heard but not exploited for their knowledge.

Slido (and other audience interaction tools) has the capability to verify users, restrict responses and generally impose some law and order on interaction but I argue that isn’t really the goal if you truly want to “unmute” everyone. Be brave, ask bold questions and have fun with interactivity.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash