In this edition

Quote of the month

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

— Coco Chanel


Welcome to our September 2014 newsletter: Speaking up in a group

We’ve all been at the conference session where one person dominates question time, droning on and on, while people with a valuable contribution to make sit silently.

In this edition, we offer some tips on how to get the quiet ones in a group to speak up.

Enjoy our tips and, as always, we’d love your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email us.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:

Breaking the ice with a one-on-one

By Sarah Cole

Sometimes in our workshops the people with valuable ideas speak up less than others.

When I’m running a workshop, I use the breaks between sessions to interact with these participants to encourage them into the conversations.

During a break I might make a cup of tea and have a chat with them: “Did you have far to come to the workshop this morning?”. Or I might check in with them about an aspect of the workshop session: “How did you go with choosing objectives for your communication plan?”

This one-on-one conversation can give me clues about the person’s work and what they want most from the workshop. The process often helps me to identify issues or topics that are relevant to them, which we can then explore in a group discussion.

It’s also possible that, after that personal interaction, a participant feels more confident in speaking up in the group; I feel more comfortable asking them a direct question too.

So I suggest making meaningful connections with people – which don’t have to take long – to encourage them to share their ideas and views.

Being upfront

By Mary O’Callaghan

The back of the room was the cool place to sit when I was younger, whether it was a classroom, an auditorium or a church.

Nerds, bores and fanatics sat up the front. Plus, the exit always seemed to be at the back, making it easier to escape unnoticed.

These days, thanks to my failing eyesight and hearing, I make a beeline for the front of the room where, thankfully, empty seats are usually plentiful.

In a big group, if I have a burning question, I might choose to keep it to myself and hope that someone else asks it. I’m an introvert; so I’m afraid I’ll appear foolish or won’t be able to articulate my question well, or that I’ll draw a complete blank just as the roving mike is thrust upon me.

Apparently, I need to switch off my inner editor and start thinking out loud.

Somehow, the closer I sit to the front of the room the less intimidated I feel about speaking up.

I’m not sure whether I forget that all those people are behind me or I pretend they are not there. Either way, out of sight, out of mind.

I also feel more connected to the speaker, whereas at the back of the room I often feel disengaged. And when I do contribute, I don’t get all those heads turning around and staring (yes, guilty of this myself).

If you’re an introvert who clams up in small groups, take solace from a Virginia Tech study which found that the people who froze the most were actually the smartest.

Engaging the uninterested

By Jenni Metcalfe

I remember the second media skills workshop we ran some 21 years ago, which was for CSIRO in Townsville.

There was one scientist who clearly didn’t want to be there. He turned his back on us at the start, refused to make eye contact and was reviewing a paper as we launched into the workshop.

Sometimes people are told they must attend a certain workshop and they’d really rather not. Why? Because they have too many other commitments or they don’t think it is relevant to them. So they behave like our Townsville scientist.

You can avoid this happening by making sure in advance that the workshop is as relevant as possible for all participants. You can do this by:

  • talking through the purpose of the workshop with the person who has initiated it
  • surveying participants, asking them to select what they most want to get out of the workshop
  • telling participants at the start of the workshop exactly what the workshop will cover.

Despite your preparation, you may still end up with participants who are not interested, not committed, or not focused on the workshop. They may be distracted by work, take long breaks, or be reluctant to take part in exercises. Either way, they do not contribute.

You can avoid this type of behaviour by working with participants at the start of the workshop to agree some ground rules, such as limiting or not allowing the use of mobile phones and tablets.

If someone still looks like they really don’t want to be there, try to get them to share their experiences and knowledge. That way you may engage their interest and make them feel part of it.

We tried this with our Townsville scientist and by the end of the 2-day workshop he was actively participating in media interviews and workshop discussions.

Leading a group discussion –
7 tricks to get them talking

By Toss Gascoigne

1. Ask simple questions first.
This gets the audience relaxed and in the mood to respond.

2. Ask for a group response.
“Ok, I’ll ask this row of people here. Now, what do you all think about the…?”
Responding as part of a group minimises potential embarrassment and the sense of exposure for shy people.

3. Give people time to think.
“Now, in a moment I’m going to ask Bruce how he uses Twitter and what value he gets out of it, but first we need to …”. The idea is to give Bruce a moment to think.

4. Be patient.
When you ask a question, be prepared to wait for the answer. And wait… and wait. Don’t be afraid of the silence. Give people time to frame the words in their mind.

5. Position yourself in the room. 
If a person located near you responds, move away from them (subtly) so that they have to project their voice across the room. That way, everyone can hear the conversation and feel involved.

6. Use your eyes.
Want to discourage a person from dominating the conversation? Then, look anywhere except at them.

Want a particular person to answer? Then, look towards them as though you expect them to respond.

7. Make a game of it.
“Let’s hear from you first, Ted, and then you can pass the mike on to anyone else in the room for their ideas .”