One measure of audience engagement in a virtual meeting is the use of the chatbox. One of my clients said, “I want to see the chatbox blow up [with tons of comments]!” And while that might be a laudable goal, it’s not always appropriate.
As a facilitator, I like to keep the chatbox functionality “on” in case the participants want to chat. However,
Commenting in chatboxes may not be a fit in these situations:
- Topic. Some topics are so somber that a live chat might not be a great place to comment.
- Audience. Some audiences are not “chatters.” For example, executives (as a general rule) are not big contributors to the chatbox – for various reasons. So don’t expect them to comment!
- Culture. Perhaps the culture of the organization doesn’t encourage freewheeling comments – even in the face-to-face world!
- Event. Some events are just more “proper” than others and the chatbox stays empty.
Almost all digital platforms HAVE a chatbox. The question is HOW the participants should use the chatbox.
In your introductory remarks including comments about the platform, either encourage or discourage the use of the chatbox AND give a little guidance as to how to use the chatbox. Here is what I typically say:
“The chatbox is a perfect place to capture key takeaways, insights, or additional information you can add to the conversation. Please use it to benefit all of the participants. If there is something you want to say to a specific person, please direct your chat to that person. If you want to mention a participant, just use the @ sign followed by the starting few characters of the person you want to mention. If you have a question you’d like to ask, either put it in the question box OR put ‘QUESTION’ in capital letters before your question, so I’ll be able to see it and quickly find it in the chatbox.”
I then like to add this comment:
“PLEASE remember that for some, the chatbox can be very distracting. If you get distracted, just close your chatbox. Yet some of us suffer from “fear of missing out” (FOMO) where we feel compelled to keep the chatbox open and read ALL the comments – just in case we have a need to know. So for the benefit of others, please use the chatbox constructively and limit the seemingly random thoughts, comments, and shout outs that do not contribute to the overall conversation.”
Note: If you don’t care if there are random comments in the chatbox, then don’t say that last part. Sometimes, community and connection are more important than the speaker – but I would never tell the speaker that!
At the conclusion of the meeting, the chatbox is a great way for the participants to send kudos and compliments to each other. Furthermore, you can save the chatbox to capture the key takeaways and action items. Clean it up a bit and send it out as a reminder of the agreements made during the meeting!
Personally, I like having the functionality of the chatbox during a virtual meeting. Sometimes I use it, and other times I don’t. As a facilitator, it is our responsibility to share how BEST to use the chatbox.
For more information about how to lead your team in the virtual environment, use these resources.
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF | Master, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.