I am a bit of a shrinking violet; a wallflower some might say– shy to ask questions in a group, and hesitant to share an idea unless I’ve probed it from every possible angle to make sure it is absolutely bullet proof. Ask me to speak-up in front of a group, and I’ll be out the front door before you can say Jack Robinson. While I’m very lucky to work at Elton Consulting – a company that embraces the mantra that ‘there is no such thing as a silly question’ – there are plenty people out there who, like me, struggle to ask questions or have their say in front of others.
In the engagement space, online workshops, focus groups and forums offer a range of opportunities – as well as challenges – for shy or considered participants. While we can turn off our cameras and set our questions to ‘private’, we can no longer physically hide behind vocal participants, or hover around after a session to speak one-on-one with a facilitator.
My personal experience has got me thinking; how can we make space for wallflowers in a world where online consultation sessions are becoming the norm?
Here is my advice:
- Share background information and invite questions ahead of a session. That way quieter stakeholders – or individuals who might need more time to process their thoughts – can come to the session prepared, or with their questions already asked.
- Consider allowing anonymous comments or questions during the session, keeping in mind that this is not always suitable, depending on the subject matter or stakeholder group. Platforms like Zoom have this option programmed into their settings, and tools like Mentimeter allow people to share their thoughts anonymously.
- Think about using online platforms that allow smaller breakout groups. Smaller groups can be less confronting for shy individuals. Microsoft Teams has introduced breakout room facilities for its meetings. Elton Consulting National Lead – Digital Marketing and Design, Calli Brown, shared this guide to the tool.
- Provide the opportunity for the “I wish I had said” moment. This can be recreated by using an exit survey to capture any comments people didn’t voice during the session or questions that they didn’t ask. These comments can then be analysed, and questions can be responded to after the session.
- Use multiple feedback channels for a limited period of time following an event. It is always good practice to provide multiple avenues for feedback and question, and often, our best ideas come to us when we have had some time to reflect. Email addresses and phone lines offer opportunities for these ideas to be shared and captured.
While shy people may not say a lot, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to say. As the wonderful Haruki Murakami wrote, ‘deep rivers run quiet.’ Finding opportunities to allow quieter individuals to contribute to online conversations can open-up a range of new ideas, perspectives and questions.