Talking to Pretend Participants

With traditional stand-up training on the wane in 2010, I began to be more assertive in offering virtual training to my clients. Many took me up on it. As the year progressed I got better and better at them — but, I learned recently, not perfect.

A speakers bureau approached me about offering a webinar for her clients. She’d never held one before, but wanted to showcase how she could offer experts virtually as well as in person. I enthusiastically accepted her invitation.

We did a run through and all went well. A dozen people pre-registered, but she thought a small group was fine since she’d never offered a webinar before, and we knew many more would watch the recording afterwards.

We logged in 30 minutes early and went through a last-minute tech check. Everything was hunky dory.

A few minutes before the start time, I broadcast my welcome slide. There was only one participant in the room but we were confident there would be latecomers. At the top of the hour, my colleague began my introduction. We were off!

I rocked and rolled, advancing through engaging slides and telling stories to illustrate my points. About 15 minutes into the program, I launched my first of 8 polls. As I watched the control panel to monitor people’s responses, I was aghast to see that no one was responding! Were they just taking their time? Distracted? What was wrong, I wondered?

Quickly, I scanned the participant list. Other than the host, there was no one in the room! Oh, no! What happened? I glanced at the chat messages and the lone participant said she couldn’t hear anything so was leaving. In horror, I saw the “Start broadcast” button glaring at me. I’d forgotten to engage the audio portion! Arrrgh!

Knowing that my host wanted to post this on her site as an example of how she could provide experts virtually, I made up the responses. I said, “It looks like nearly everyone has responded. And most of you said…” I verbalized what previous attendees had checked.

I had seven more polls interspersed in the program, designed to increase interaction and make the program more engaging. I couldn’t just skip them as there were slides for them and we wanted to show potential clients that this was an interactive program.

So I kept up the ruse. Pulling from past program responses, I feigned reporting the mythical results.

I couldn’t open it up to questions, as I knew there wouldn’t be any! I couldn’t verbalize the problem, as it was being recorded for posterity — and marketing purposes.

So I continued to my non-existent audience as if their ghosts were in the room. But none of them even said “boo.”

In the end, my host was pleased with how I punted. We had the recording for her to post on her site. No one would know our secret — except now you do!

So my most memorable workplace moment of 2010 was speaking to no one — yet making it sound as if there were legions. Training — especially virtual training — can be a bit of smoke and mirrors sometimes, can’t it?