Dead air dynamics

For a DJ, the worst possible disaster is dead air, the agonizing moments of silence when you should be filling the airtime with words or music and there is just nothing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical glitch or human error, you can almost feel the impatient audience “tuning out” with each second that goes by. They’re counting on you for continuity. 

Have you ever experienced dead air at the beginning of a business meeting? Whoever’s running the meeting has an obligation to show up, start on time, and lead the participants through the 60 minutes.  There should be a clear purpose, a non-stop flow of information and ideas, and most importantly, a dose of passion, humor or excitement to keep everyone moving forward and on track.  This goes for face-to-face meetings or WebEx meetings.

I’ve joined far too many online meetings where the participants just sit quietly after  joining in, waiting for the host to officially get the meeting started.  This typically creates an awkward 4 minute “dead air” lag as colleagues arrive from other meetings.  If you start your meetings on time, you’ll increase the odds of people showing up on time.  Even so, some will always straggle in late.  Hosts hesitate to start until everyone is there so they can avoid having to repeat anything. 

Why not use this 4 minutes to accomplish something?  Here are three ways to fill the dead air with something productive:

  • Review the  meeting agenda written on a whiteboard or a PPT slide so latecomers can catch up later.  Focus on what your attendees will walk away with.  If your audience does not have a clear need for your information, ask yourself why you are having a meeting in the first place.
  • Look for a reason to say “good job” to someone in the room or on the call.  There’s nothing like genuine and public praise on a recent accomplishment.  It could even be your boss… say thanks for supporting budget or an initiative important to the team. (Careful not to be a Eddie Haskell brown-noser. “Gee Mrs. Cleaver, that’s a lovely necklace you’re wearing today.”)
  • Have some fun – tell a funny short story, ask a trivia question or tell a G-rated joke.  I keep a desk calendar with corny jokes nearby, which I threaten to use every time we start late.  It’s starting to work.

The conclusion of a meeting is extremely important.  You summarize what was done, assign action items and agree on the agenda for the next meeting.  The beginning of a meeting is equally as important.  You set a tone that you’re here to get something done, but you don’t take yourself too seriously.  Sitting quietly seems like a real waste of time.  With my schedule, I have roughly 80 meeting minutes per week to turn dead air into something alive.  Give it a try at your next meeting and let me know what happens.

Share your tricks for making meetings more engaging and effective in the comments below.  Thanks!

P.S. Before you ask… no, that is NOT me in the photo 🙂

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10 Comments on “Dead air dynamics”


  1. Ah… I love your post on this, David! Excellent job as always.

    You are so right on, my fellow DJ! So right on! 🙂
    I have come to believe that we’re almost more ‘hyper-sensitive’ to the dead air silence. Perhaps it is more awkward or devastating to us because, hey… time is money. And we’re reminded of it with each ticking minute.

    In the world of business, that silence has become annoying. It’s one of the reasons I loathe meetings when others were the ones who called the meeting in the first place. It’s as if they are not prepared and they have nothing to say, or rather, have meetings for the sake of looking busy, when no one actually has anything real to report.

    I think there is a purpose for ‘dead air’ in some cases. In the Japanese culture, business people actually sometimes ‘pause for effect’ – using it as a method to actually see if anyone in the room is truly listening to notice the silence. This is then used as a test to see if the silence was distracting to cause people to lose focus on what was previously said. From here people are prompted for ‘the recall factor’ of the conversation. Very tricky! 😀

    In any case, I could not let a second of dead air go by in acknowledging this post. You are the master at meetings… and the master at making the most of any meeting. Thank you for posting the proper way to conduct one! So many people need this education!!! You’re the best!

    • davidgoad Says:

      Thanks Stacey! Interesting facts on Japanese communication style. The attention factor is even more challenging in a typical WebEx meeting because body language is limited, and the temptation of multi-tasking. Thanks for he prompt, I think I need to write another post on multi-tasking. Oh wait… hold on a minute I’ve got another call… 🙂


  2. David,
    There you go making sense again! I believe that the introduction (which begins upon the arrival of the first attendee) makes or breaks every meeting. Great post.

  3. Andy Says:

    Yep, I agree with Stephen who is agreeing with you that you are making sense and being logical. There’s just no room in business today for concepts like this, cut it out why don’t cha? 🙂

    Could you please come to The Home Depot in Atlanta and bring everyone on board with your ideas here? Looking back over meetings I’ve attended over the past couple of weeks 100% of them started (the actual productive part) 5 and even up to 10 minutes late for all the reasons you stated. AAARRRRRGGGGHHH!!!!!

    Also, if you could, explain the proper way to end a meeting. Just because it’s scheduled to last for 60 minutes doesn’t mean you have to take up the entire time. When you’ve completed to task for which the meeting was intended — END IT! Don’t waste time. If no one answers the question “Is there anything else?” then the meeting is over.

    Here’s a good title “Turn out the lights – the meeting’s over”.

    No wait … one more thing …
    No wait … one more thing …
    No wait … one more thing …
    No wait … one more thing …
    No wait … one more thing …

    • davidgoad Says:

      Andy, you’ve identified another common issue. We’ve all been in meetings that dragged on to 60 minutes when 40 minutes was plenty for the agenda. I have one big suggestion – schedule 30 minute meetings instead. You’d be amazed at how much the pace and energy picks up. People are also more likely to show up on time, afraid that they might miss something. Psychologically, 1 minute late to a 30 minute meeting is equivalent to 5 minutes late in a 60 minute meeting, right? What do you think?

  4. Kristie Atkinson Says:

    The lengthy meetings I attend are usually caused by too much small talk at the closure phase. It’s awkward for someone to stop the small talk without appearing rude to others (I’m referring to in-person meetings-haven’t experienced webex meetings yet!). I like your idea of small talk during the preliminary phase (jokes, compliments, agenda review), then quickly accomplish items on agenda, and close the meeting with a clean cut “see you at next week’s meeting” type of statement.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Yes, the small talk is important for building relationships to a point. But there is nothing wrong with ending a meeting early. I have joyfully heard meeting hosts say “I’m going to give you 15 minutes back in your day because we accomplished everything we needed to.” Hallelujah and thank you!! (Though that is kind of like the government saying “We are graciously giving you back some of your tax money” as if it wasn’t our money in the first place 🙂

  5. Yana Says:

    Great post. Thanks!

  6. davidgoad Says:

    Just heard another great idea from a customer. She puts up word search and crossword puzzles in her WebEx and enables the attendees to annotate and solve them in that first few minutes of each meeting. It adds a little fun, and we all know how competitive our colleagues can be 🙂


  7. […] his post Dead Air Dynamics, David Goad talks about the extreme discomfort that DJs feel when it all goes quiet and […]


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