Einstein, relativity and webinars


Albert Einstein once famously explained one of his most complicated theories thus: "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." What this has to do with presenting virtually is that both are about the passage of time.

I spend a lot of my time teaching people that presenting online and conducting webinars is not rocket science. And Einstein would have understood them well because he knew that time is relative.

This is never truer than when you're trying to determine the pace at which to speak and present information. Most people present too quickly, and the longer they present the faster they speak. It also applies to pauses. Online, people tend to make pauses shorter and have fewer of them.

The reason this happens is simple. When we present in a traditional environment, we get a number of cues (mostly visual and silent) that tell us whether our pace is appropriate. The most obvious is in the eyes of your audience. Are they nodding in agreement and focusing or glazing over and rolling skyward? If they appear to be confused, we slow down and check for understanding.

Online, we don't get those cues, and our brains –partly because we just want to get the darned thing over with as quickly as possible- keep talking. Often we go from fast to very fast, like a rock picking up momentum as it rolls downhill. So how can we battle and overcome what is, in fact, rocket science

  • Assume that pauses online feel twice as long as in traditional settings. This means you should consciously pause for twice as long as you normally would.
  • You have to plan your pauses because the audience can't (or won't) tell you. I actually find logical breaks every few minutes to stop.
  • Remember that your audience may want to contribute and you have to let them. If your audience were in the room, there would be a pause while they looked around the room to see if anyone is going to jump in or if they are the only one with a question. Not only can they not see each other, but they probably have to unmute their phones to boot. Again, the pause feels way longer than it actually is, and there's a tendency to jump in too quickly. After a while, "any questions" starts to sound like a rhetorical question and the speaker doesn't really mean it.
  • Build pauses into your notes, leaders guides or visuals so you don't forget.
  • Don't be afraid to let pauses linger. I tell my audiences I will wait until one of them cracks and finally says something. And I mean it. At the very least offer a slow, silent count to five before jumping back in.

So it's important online to remember that not only do pauses and silence feel uncomfortable to us, but they are paradoxically even more important when presenting virtually than in the room. Practice taking pauses, and don't worry about silence. Most of the time someone in the audience will crack first and say something, even if it's only to agree that it's time to move on.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.