Harnessing the Unexpected through Silence

Since working from home for more than a year, I’ve been listening to lots of music as I work, typically radio stations generated by some anonymous algorithm. After a few months, however, I was recognizing every song on my playlists of choice – it felt stale and uninspiring. To mix things up, I began listening to live radio stations far away from where I live in California, from Seattle to New Orleans to Venice, Italy. Immediately, I felt reinvigorated and inspired by new, unfamiliar music, voices of broadcasters and local weather reports from far-away locations.

Designing virtual learning events, one of the greatest challenges is giving space for silence. Yet intentional silence in learning events provides an important function (especially virtually), even just to provide simple contrast to the busy-ness of the virtual world. Even more importantly, silence affords learners the space to go deeper, offering their peers greater discovery and sharing. I saw a thread between the freshness and creativity I felt from the new music channels when breaking a musical rut and realized I could intentionally support similar experiences in future learning designs not through music, but through silence.

So, as a practitioner who is getting more comfortable with incorporating silence into learning events, here are tips I have found useful:

  1. Decide how long you will pause – and then use a timer to keep track. Two minutes of silence feels much longer when you are facilitating compared to participating!
  2. Be clear with your activity instructions. Often, it’s helpful to practice them in advance with a team member or co-designer to ensure that the learning activity or reflection question isn’t confusing.
  3. Explain why you are offering the opportunity of silence – the GLP blog ‘Silence to Think and Re-energize’ provides helpful tips. Many learners are attending back-to-back virtual meetings, so your invitation for silent reflection may be the first chance they have received all day to be alone in their thoughts.
  4. Consider turning off the presentation, and even requesting cameras to be turned off for the period of silence (after announcing that you will do so, just in case anyone thinks you had technical difficulties).

What other tactical approaches have you found that help support your use of silence in events?

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Kristina Mody is a certified Dialogue Education Practitioner and leads learning design events as Senior Manager of Care Redesign at the Purchaser Business Group on Health’s California Quality Collaborative.

Here are other resources you may be interested in:

  1. An Approach that Invites Connections
  2. Considering Silence
  3. Help Me, I’m an Extrovert