A Chat about Chat in Zoom meetings (From Rant to Recommendations)

This short video is a recent rant,  born of my frustration about some of the ways the Chat function is mindlessly used in Zoom Meetings. Fortunately, I think Chat can be very effective when used well. Please feel free to watch my rant or bypass it to leap ahead to consider some of my recommendations!

My Recommendations

A] Overarching Principles

First, when you decide to use the Chat feature, please use it purposefully to achieve a particular outcome or to provide a benefit of the others on the call.

Second, use it well (see a few suggestions below).

Third, think about the following variables. They should be taken into consideration when you plan to use Chat:

  • Purpose of the meeting
  • Number of participants
  • Length of the meeting
  • Degree of familiarity amongst the participants
  • Length of time since participants have seen each other on screen or in person
  • Working relationships (within or across departments/organizations)
  • Availability of one or more competent co-hosts
  • Previous experience of the participants (pre-existing culture re: use of the chat)

I won’t go into how to take the above into consideration in this article.  That being said, I’m happy to chat with you directly about design considerations.  Please reach out to me at david@davidgouthro.com

B] Chat Settings

Make sure you have the appropriate chat features enabled (if they aren’t, none of the following comments will be of any value). Some need to be set up (a) on the Zoom website in advance, while others (b) can be modified by the host once the Zoom meeting starts.

Before the Meeting:
 Set this up in the Settings section of the www.zoom.us website.

In the Meeting: The host can set this section up after the meeting has been launched.

Select “Chat” on the bottom of your screen.  That pops up the following section where you can choose with whom participants can chat.  Again, think about your group, the purpose of the meeting, how desperate you are to have everyone’s full attention—then choose the appropriate setting. “Participants Can Chat With:”

No one: Participants can’t chat with anyone for any reason.  They may be annoyed and choose to check their email–be careful of dashing their expectations.

Host Only:  They can only send messages and ask questions to you.  No one else will know.

Everyone Publicly:  Everyone can see everything people put in the chat.

Everyone Publicly and Privately:  Participants can chat with the whole group or individuals. The ability to communicate privately with individuals is often used to say “hello” to long lost friends or to have something to do if the meeting content is boring or irrelevant.  This is the electronic equivalent of passing notes in class (before the advent of cell phones).

C] Suggestions/Possibilities:

When the meeting begins, tell participants how the chat will be used in the meeting and why (especially if the protocol is going to vary from what they’re used to). Don’t keep them wondering–please set up the meeting and the participants for success with respect to the use of Chat.

Open the meeting between 15 to 30 minutes early so participants can Chat with each other before the official start. This provides an opportunity to connect with people they haven’t seen for a while and it acknowledges the desire/need to connect with fellow humans, especially during the COVID-19 craziness. [Note: If the only reason you choose not to do that is because you are unprepared to start on time, I suggest you prepare a little bit better and a little bit earlier!]

Use the Chat to provide instructions for breakout room activities. Cut and paste instructions that were on a slide presentation into the chat so participants in the breakout rooms have access to them. Much better than expecting them to remember what they’re supposed to do or asking them to take a photo on their smart phones for reference!

Remind participants that anything entered in the breakout Chat is private and will be lost when they re-enter the main meeting. Save it if they want it!

Use a co-host to handle technical challenges.  Let the group know who that is so they can reach out to a specific person for support, which requires setting the Chat to “Everyone Publicly and Privately. (This is my friend and colleague Mary Charlson who agreed to pose as a co-host. Mary is a wonderful marketing & media strategist at http://www.charleson.ca).

Use a co-host (or as many as you need) to monitor the chat for content. If participants have been asked to provide input, this lets you keep your eyes on the group and stay focussed.  Let the co-hosts report themes—you don’t have to be the hero and do everything.

There are MANY other good uses for CHAT.  I’d love to hear YOURS!

D] Disclaimer

I am by no means an expert in the use of Chat.  The opinions are mine alone, based on having participated in too many Zoom calls to count.  They are my preferences and are in no way to be taken as best practices.  They are in a category called “My Practices”! My main wish is that Chat is not taken for granted—that it is used mindfully and intentionally in support of meeting the objectives of a Zoom meeting.

E] A Resource for You

There are many experts on the use of Zoom out there.  One of my favorites is Robbie Samuels.  Robbie has been hosting a free #NoMoreBadZoom Virtual Happy Hour since March 13th. Held every Friday at 5pm ET, these are a fun way to network and discover new ways to design engaging virtual events. I’ve attended six so far and am on one as I write this. You can sign up at www.NoMoreBadZoom.com.

About David Gouthro

David has over 40 years facilitating high energy, creative and engaging face-to-face meetings that focus on delivering client value in a manner that is focused, flexible and fun. Embracing the challenge of providing the same quality of service in an online world has been heartily embraced and he now enjoys designing and delivering high impact meetings from afar! David can be reached at david@davidgouthro.com or 604.926.6858. And he is far from being Zoomed out in case you want a more visual conversation!


David Gouthro | 09/04/2020 | | 52 Comments

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Faith is not trying to believe something regardless of the evidence; faith is daring to do something regardless of the consequences. ~ Sherwood Eddy