4.6 Not knowing what to say
It's perfectly possible to learn from what other people say without contributing anything yourself. After all, at a face-to-face tutorial some people won't say anything, perhaps because they feel shy. Working online means you can't see other people smiling in encouragement, so it can be hard to take the plunge and join in.
One good thing about online discussions is that they generally happen over a longer period. This gives you plenty of time to think about what you want to say, and everyone will be able to get their points in. This is unlike a face-to-face discussion where sometimes the only people who get heard are those who ‘think on their feet’ and talk loudest.
It can also be quite liberating that things which can distract attention, like gestures, accent, racial differences, disabilities, are not ‘visible’ online.
Here are some suggestions to get you started with contributing to a conference:
Look for other people's messages that you agree with, and say so, perhaps adding your own examples.
Look for messages that gave you ideas you hadn't thought of, or that set you thinking about something, and let them know.
Ask a question about something you don't fully understand, and hopefully someone will help you out. Don't worry about asking ‘silly’ questions. There will probably be several other people with the same worry, and you'll have done them a favour by asking.
If someone asks a question you wanted to ask, you could help them feel less silly by saying you'd like to know the answer too. However, don't do this in a very large and busy conference, where lots of ‘me too’ messages can be annoying.
If someone asks something you think you know a bit about, answer it. The very best way to check you know something is to try and explain it to someone else!
If someone asks a question that you can't help with, but no one seems to be answering, you can at least offer your sympathy and maybe suggest other sources of help.
Writing your first messages may seem awkward, but if you keep on doing it, conferencing will quickly come to feel quite natural.