I searched this page for "Vibe" "Energy" "Enthusiasm" "Non judgment" "Tone" "Humor/ Humour" "Laugh" "Fun" and not a single answer had these words in there.
there is no rational reason for why the students don't dare to say
anything. As I said, it is as if there is something in the air.
The answer is there in your question itself.
There are psychological - emotional - mental behavioral components to this scenario that no one has mentioned.
You need to tune into them to "defuse" whatever "something is in the air".
Its just about the tone of the conversation having a VIBE/ ENERGY that is tough for me to convey in words; there's enthusiasm & encouraging similar enthusiasm & interest in the people around you/ in your audience. If you cannot inspire such a vibe, then forget about getting participation.
In my experience, even SHY or QUIET people open up if you are able to make them laugh; Humor :)
Another is EMPATHY. If you can laugh at yourself or your humor shows you are human yourself and not judgmental on a high horse as faculty, then they feel they can open up and speak.
Point being, if the energy/ vibe is light & enthusiastic towards the subject and sprinkled with little "fun" and less seriousness/ dryness then you'll have more participation without fear of "judgment" from the teacher or fellow students.
The major difference in participation is not about content, it's about "styling" & "presentation" and "articulation" of the content so that it appeals to the audience.
And a large part of making a "dry" boring topic interesting is "being creative" and the easiest thing you can do is add Humor/ Fun/ some Enthusiasm
Now, outlining what kind & flavor of humor will be appropriate & permissible as per rules & regulations of "code of conduct" is out of scope to discuss here.
Nonetheless, the most memorable and fun professors and classes or presentations/ seminars/ talks I had as a student, as a professional or as a speaker/ presenter/ communicator had a small amount of humor sprinkled; making people laugh, smile, grin and have a little fun, while still staying on Subject.
It does not have to be political or sexist humor. Typically light and non controversial where people feel more light & relaxed. It's not even about jokes.
Is there a technique of pathway for this. It would vary largely based on place, speaker & audience. But great presentation skills/ books is something that should be brushed.
What is the agenda? Is it to sell something or is it to get people to absorb and learn something, or is it an ego trip of a CEO/ CTO to show off something?
People read into agenda & intention. If you convey the right intent using some of the above thoughts and people feel that intent aligns with them then they will connect with you.
PS: I remember this asst professor who taught as a tutor outside of our university college the dry & mind boggling and complex subject of foundational "Television & Video technology".
He broke it down, made it sample and added tiny bits of humor to get us all into the subject which was so dry that if I read one paragraph of the book I'd sleep.
But, his way, we just put all notes on one diagram as he showed us and I knew everything I needed to know.
Another small trick, that we used at some "motivational & leadership" talks/ workshops in addition to making it fun with a bunch of humor;
A small packet of wrapped candy/ toffee - Throw one to each student who participated / tried to answer or even if completely incorrect. Making it a fun non judgmental game where people are not afraid to TRY even if the answer is wrong. The reward is not huge, but it gets the juices & fun mood flowing :)
These are soft skills and there tons of books and training programs and coaches out there on soft skills. Depending on the demographics what you do and how you get them to participate will vary.
- Culture - US/ UK / EU/ Asia/ Japanese/ Chinese/ South America
- Age/ Level: Undergrad/ Grad/ MBA/ Professional or Exec MBA
- Subject: Technical/ Business/ Philosophical/ Math/ Etc.
Too much variance to give a specific "flavor" but it boils down to adding some of these elements as part of presentation skills.
After decades of classes, I do not remember the content of the courses, but I remember parts of it because of how the professor articulated them using the above elements.