Zooms Are ZZZZZZs Without a Chat Stirrer

screenshot of zoom attendees on video: Why Your Zoom Needs a Chat Stirrer by Really Social

I’ve worn many hats throughout my career, and especially as a social media / digital marketer. From graphic design to copywriting, project management to training, and a whole lot of other stuff I have to be good at to do what I do, my hat collection is vast and vibrant. Thus it was pretty thrilling when I got the opportunity to add a new, very custom hat to my collection of capabilities.

The Chat Stirrer

I’m known at the company where I work as someone who likes to liven things up in the Zoom chat window. I mean… yeah, why not? Considering on any given day I attend no less than six different Zoom calls, all of varying lengths and topics, I look to that chat window as the answer for my ever-shortening attention span.

Apparently I’m not the only one! Due to my history of mixing things up and inspiring conversation in chat windows, I was asked to attend an executive webinar as (what I lovingly and I think wittily enough dubbed) the Chat Stirrer. Swap out two letters and we’re talking about something completely different, so let’s stick with my quippy title.

Granted, I’ve been asked to put my social media chops to use for a myriad of odd or unique purposes before, but this request was perfect for a social media pro: someone who is used to navigating fast-moving online conversations using words without the help of vocal tone or body language, who is able to keep the conversation civil as well as focused enough on the topic at hand, and who is able to type really fast. (I clock at about 110 wpm these days; how about you?)

So I accepted the request and jumped into this special executive Zoom as its designated Chat Stirrer. And, now that the experience is already experienced, allow me to share my learnings and best practices.

Stirred, Not Shaken

  • Touchbase with the organizer(s) for expectations. The day before the webinar, I had a quick call with the host/organizer to understand the topic, the arrangement with the presenter/speaker, the duration, and the attendees. We established a back channel (via Teams) outside of the Zoom in case we needed to communicate, and she ensured that I received a panelist access link to the Zoom so I would have visibility on all comments and chatter.
  • Do your due diligence if leadership will attend the Zoom. Chances are that the person organizing the webinar is not someone who is a C-level or executive leader of the company. And, not to stereotype (but here we go), individuals in those roles typically are in a corporate/boardroom mentality and not keyed in to the ways of social interactions online. The Chat Stirrer and the event organizers can safely assume the leadership has never hung out on subreddits or dug deep into a Facebook Group comment thread or joined a Netflix watch party. Their reaction at seeing an active chat window underway while a presentation is happening may be that attendees aren’t paying enough attention (because how in the world could they if they’re typing/reading comments at the same time as someone is sharing slides on the screen?). A bit of education about today’s reality of digesting content through multiple devices/screens will serve you and the event organizers well, plus it will allow the chat engagement to be what you all intended: a way to retain attention and promote learning of the material through synchronous discussion.
  • Prepare some ice breakers for the pre-show. Remember that attendees to a webinar are likely coming directly from a different Zoom and/or from being head-down in a ton of work (or, let’s be real here, they’re fully intending on multitasking their attendance in this particular webinar). If you can engage them in the chat right off the bat, especially in ways that aren’t the usual “share who you are and what you do here,” chances are you’ll keep their focus in this webinar which so many took the time to plan and possibly pay a speaker to present. Prompts like “Where are you joining us from today?” or “If you step outside right now, what’s the weather like where you are?” are a couple of my go-to starters (though I always have others so things don’t get stale).
  • Drive chatter to the wider audience. At the top of the webinar, and periodically throughout, remind attendees to change their audience in the chat to “Panelists and Attendees.” Zoom is weird in that it defaults the choice to “Panelists” only, which means a person’s comment in chat would only be seen by the organizers rather than the entire attendance. Your roole as the Chat Stirrer can help them remain in the larger discussion by changing the dropdown at the bottom of the chat window as they join so it’s all set for any time they publish a comment.
  • Drive conversation in the direction of the topic (avoid offramps). The goal is to keep engagement going in the chat, but you don’t want to deviate too far from what the speaker, presenter, or panel is covering. After all, the goal is to come away from the webinar having learned something, so getting too chatty about ancillary subjects can make you seem as if you’re rude and/or going rogue. If you notice the chat is straying too far from the subject, ask a question or opine on the presenter’s point to bring it back in line. This is why a social media professional is a great Zoom Chat Stirrer: their skills at community management, moderation, and engagement are perfectly suited to controlling a live chat environment.
  • Avoid being too corporate. Chat is just that: it’s chatting. It isn’t public speaking, it isn’t presenting a report, it isn’t pitching; rather it’s a casual conversation that carries meaning. If you as the Chat Stirrer are too formal in your typing tone, attendees will feel less inclined to type their own comments or opinions. It’s crucial to make everyone in the chat feel they are on the same level of participation in what they can bring to the discussion. Remember that, regardless of title, most adults read at an eighth grade reading level. And even if your webinar is for a lineup of your executives who all earned their MBAs or higher, consider this: do you honestly think they use boardroom-speak in their every day conversations and texts? Prompt engagement via words that a person uses in their normal, everyday, casual speech.
  • Reinforce the topic using chat prompts. If a poll pops up during the webinar, ask people to share how they responded in the chat, and make sure you share to create the safe space for them to divulge their answer. Sure, the speaker and panelists can see the aggregated responses which is interesting on its own, but carrying the discussion deeper in the chat about how people answered and why is even more interesting! Often what happens is that, even as the speaker is making very salient points, the experiences attendees feel comfortable sharing via chat can increase the learning taking place.
  • Debrief afterwards. Once the webinar has ended, get with the organizers and/or presenters to review how the event went. Was the chat activity helpful overall? Any feedback for improvement for next time? Any insights seen in the chat discussion that should be incorporated in follow-up notes or distribution?

Here’s the wrap-up and final takeaway from this whole experience: Zooms, while a great tool especially these days, can get boring FAST. Any person who doesn’t want their Zoom to turn into a snoozefest or a call where it’s clear that every single attendee is doing something else, or wishing they were, should ensure that that simple yet handy chat feature is kept lively and interactive. TL;DR version: enlist a Zoom Chat Stirrer.

Got thoughts? Drop them below! I’d love to hear what you think and if this is something you’ve done, failed at, or want for your next Zoom call.

(This blog article, though it may seem like it, is in no way sponsored or paid for by Zoom. I just thought it’d be helpful to link to them throughout considering they are technically the social media platform of the COVID-19 year.)

Decisions, Decisions…

Change.

I’ve always thrived on how things change. As a child, I became used to our frequent moves from state to state (a natural consequence of having a father who worked for the federal government). As an adult, I rarely leased an apartment for longer than two years. My hair is always changing colors.

Change is something I’m used to, so it doesn’t necessarily freak me out to the same degree as it does for others.

Family.

Ah, this is something I’ve been schooled on throughout my life, even when I didn’t realize it. As a child, I took for granted the constancy of my family. When my parents divorced during my teen years, the upheaval probably wreaked more havoc than I would acknowledge. As a young adult, I spent many years putting my family on the backburner while mistakenly prioritizing friends and even acquaintances over them.

As an adult, I grew older and wiser to the importance of family. Getting married and then parenting two children has turned me into a different person than I was… which in itself is all about change. And even as my children get older and wiser with each year, and I know ultimately they’ll make their own changes to our family dynamic, I welcome them as natural consequences of being a human.

Decisions.

Toward the end of the 2017 summer, my husband and I sat down to discuss our family’s options. I had been throwing myself into building a digital marketing business since mid-2015, and amidst highs and lows I still hadn’t quite made it into a fully solvent and profitable venture. The possibilities were still there, but the timeline was beginning to feel pressure from our household budget.

Here’s the thing: I needed to draw a line. The line would tell me my limit for how long and how much I could sacrifice for my business (as well as how much I could expect my family to sacrifice). By the end of our conversation, a distinct line had materialized in the exact size and shape of our family’s 1,524 square-foot home.

Based on our budget, we had until the end of 2017 to try to make my business profitable so that our home mortgage would not be on the chopping block. So that day, I made a decision to keep pushing at my business, but I would also be active about applying for full-time opportunities. And oh, did I pray for the best and most rapid outcome? You bet I did. Serving two masters like that for a prolonged period wasn’t going to be good for me in any way.

Results.

So what happened?

Well, I applied to a position managed by one of my prior directors. From hitting the Submit button on the online application, through phone screens and interviews, to receiving a verbal offer for the opportunity… three weeks. That’s it. That’s IT. That was it.

Today, I work full-time in digital marketing out of an office in downtown Denver. My work serves Coloradans who need the most help at the worst times in their lives.

And yet my own business ventures are not fully dead or defunct. I am also blessed to be one of the weekly livestream hosts for an encoding platform which cares about its broadcasters and viewers, not just accumulating dollars. I get to share the screen with people I respect, entertain people I appreciate, and earn side income I can use to balance out all I put into my business since I started it.

My family is finding a new balance with my roles, and all is going well. My husband is thankful to be able to pay bills on time again, and in full. My kids are enjoying more times when I’m able to play a random board game, take them on a random shopping trip, or show them my new work digs downtown. I’m thriving on regular human interaction, meeting and surpassing work goals, and using all that I’ve learned through my business to excel as a team member again.

What about Really Social?

The full range of services provided through Really Social has been vastly pared down since these new developments rolled out. Currently I’m unable to take on side clients, mostly because there simply aren’t enough hours between working full-time, commuting to that work, and livestreaming on the side.

That said, if you need help with social media, I have a TON of amazing resources ready to work with you. It makes me thrill to be able to send work to a swath of professional and capable digital marketers. Plus, who knows where this livestreaming side-gig will lead? Just reach out to me via Messenger to let me know what you’re looking for, and we’ll make it happen.

How Experts Can Avoid the Zombies

“Can I pick your brain over coffee?”

“Can I call you and pick your brain?”

“Can I pick your brain?”

Ew.

Are you tired of hearing this phrase used in every way imaginable? For those who use this phrase on others, let’s count the ways in which it is received. Then we’ll look at ways to avoid getting your brain picked over until there’s nothing left.

You’re just sitting around waiting to help me.

You don’t know how to do something, yet you know you’d like to learn. So you see an expert who appears successful at that thing. If your solution is to ask to “pick their brain,” you send them your assumption that they’re not working hard at their craft and just waiting for the next opportunity to be graced with this question.

Wrong. If you can externally see someone’s success, you’re seeing the tip of the iceberg that peaks out of the water’s surface. Below that, there is the remaining 90% of hustle, hard work, sacrifice, and commitment which helps get the expert to where they are.

You must work for free, so hand over the goods.

How insulting is this? “Pick your brain” instantly quantifies the transaction as being free or complimentary. And I get it: everyone loves free stuff. But to assume an expert’s time and knowledge is going to be free is utterly ridiculous.

What makes this worse if when the person asking knows they’re talking to an entrepreneur or self-employed individual. Their target has carved success out of the very ground, working countless hours and spending money (probably a good amount if not all of their savings, as well as venture capital if applicable) to build something, and here you come with your hands extended expectantly waiting for your share. Please stop.

Anyone can do what you can do, so why not me?

This comes most into play with those “dream jobs.” I’ll confess, I’d love to have Trip Advisor reach out to offer me all the dollars just to travel the world and share my experiences on Instagram with all of the hashtags necessary. (HINT, HINT, Trip Advisor!) Or how about if Pixar offers me my own YouTube show to give a parent’s critique of their movies while being compensated enough to pay my mortage?

Sweet deals are highly sought after, but they don’t just land in one’s lap. Top dollars go to top efforts, and we’re back to that elusive 90%-of-the-iceberg we can’t see which helps generate those dream jobs. Unless you’re willing to build the same network and put in the same hours to cultivate a truly special set of skills.

Bottom line: if you’re asking anyone if you can “pick their brain,” you are officially a zombie. You’re the groaning, grasping, kind of smelly undead being stumbling toward your nearest expert hoping to come away with a bit of their brains… which—surprise, surprise—they are loathe to part with.

zombies-animated-gif
They’re coming for what you know.


How you can avoid the brain-picking zombies

Establish a free discovery session. Set yourself a time frame which you’re willing to provide complimentary expertise. It can be as low as 10 or even 15 minutes, or as much as an hour—but no more than that! By setting a block of time you offer to anyone, you can give away just enough knowledge to tease the rest of your services. Then it’s full price for the rest of your time.

This becomes largely useful when you get questions in many formats online. It’s easy enough to answer one or two questions, but if they start pouring in from the same source, time to bring up your discovery session.

Schedule your availability. This is on the expert to be disciplined with their “free” time. While being helpful is something to strive for, you can do so on your own schedule. By offering limited knowledge during set hours, you communicate to the requester that you are indeed busy and are being selective with who benefits from your labors.

If you need to, block off your calendar with your “zombie availability” and schedule your knowledge sharing in those time frames. There are also affordable ways to provide a scheduling link to prompt your zombie to do a little work and find a time that works for your schedule.

Have a pricing sheet ready. Many entrepreneurs and consultants neglect to drill down on what their hourly rate is, and they should. Once you can demonstrate on paper that you do have a baseline for what your time costs, your zombies can either be educated about your value or chased away to their next meal.

As this Forbes article says, every “yes” means a “no” to something else. When you say yes to the zombies, you say no to your brain’s value.

What do you think? What’s your favorite way to avoid the brain-picking zombies?

5 Tools to Help You Work Smarter, Not Harder

I love technology. I replay in my head the scene from Napoleon Dynamite where his brother serenades his new bride.

“Work Smarter” is not always easy.

When I started my business, I knew technology would help me achieve the efficiency dream of working smarter, not harder. I knew there were tools, some of which I had not yet discovered, which would enable me to be productive and network my systems together.

However, finding and choosing the tools which are right for a business is easier said than done, am I right? In an effort to save you from trials by fire, I humbly submit the following tools would have made my life as a business owner easier.

Google Drive (logo)
Google Drive

Google Drive

Let’s start with an easy one! As a heavy user of Gmail, the Chrome web browser and its wealth of extensions, Google Photos, and Google reviews, choosing to go with Google Drive over other cloud storage services was a no-brainer.

Don’t get me wrong: I also use Dropbox and OneDrive (the latter comes with my Microsoft Office package, so why not?). Both are primarily for clients who already utilize those platforms; however, my internal team relies on Google Drive as our home base for homebase productivity tools and storage.

Really Social | social media content calendar template (screenshot)
Create a variety of useful files in Google Drive.

Each client has a dedicated Google folder, each with unique sharing permissions to staff who are authorized to work with that client. My mobile device’s images, videos, and screenshots are automatically uploaded to my Google Drive for easy use in other apps or content. I’m ridiculously proud of my Google Sheets social media content calendar template, which my team uses to generate each new month of content for our clients. We then download CSV files of the content to upload into our scheduling platforms. Even more beautiful is the accessibility to these files from any of our remote devices in case we need to work on the fly. If you’re looking for a great guide to upload your files into Google Drive, Cloudwards has all the screenshots and helpful hints you can handle. 

If you weren’t already aware, Google Drive also has tools to create complex forms and surveys and slide presentations. I even dictated this blog post into a Google Doc using Voice Typing. Any tool that gives me an “Aha!” moment regularly receives my ringing endorsement.

Todoist (logo)
Todoist

Todoist

For task lists, I veered between using Outlook Tasks and Google Tasks. I’ve never been a huge fan of using Outlook on my mobile device, so trying to manage and oversee my tasks from Outlook became a hassle—not a trait you want to have for your daily tasks. I already use Google Calendar, so I tried to use appointment and task creators to manage my to-do list. Alas, that didn’t work well for me since I use my Google Calendar to provide meeting availability to clients and viewing each task remotely was difficult.

Really Social | Todoist task list screenshot
Create detailed & scheduled tasks in Todoist.

Enter Todoist. Using their free subscription, I am able to add tasks which repeat themselves at specific times and on specific days, are assigned to a specific client or project, and can have notes and reminders assigned to them (premium version). The mobile app is a thing of beauty: I have a quick-add version to allow me to tap in a new task, as well as the full-fledged app which gives me management of the entire task list. The Business plan also allows additional team members to be added for task assignments.

Slack (logo)
Slack

Slack

Really Social | Slack mobile app screenshot
Slack’s mobile app is clean & easy to navigate.

If you’re like me you, you hate reply-all email chains with the fire of one thousand suns. It’s nearly impossible today to have a productive and timely

email conversation when the respondents keep missing each other because they’re tapping out replies. Plus, who really reads their email faithfully anymore? Some of us are so inundated with new inbox alerts, we simply turn them off or tune them out.

My familiarity and heavy use of messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger, are what drew me to start using Slack. The continuous stream of conversation makes it easy to follow, look back for context, mention individuals for a specific comment, add relevant files which are then saved in the sidebar, refer to other channels as needed, and even incorporate fun emojis as appropriate. Using Slack, I’ve created separate channels for each client and then given specific team members access to those channels so they are aware of new items or issues related to their client. I also use Slack to touch base daily with my team, which is made easier by the mobile app. (Don’t you love how mobile apps help the whole work smarter principle?)

Trello (logo
Trello

Trello

Ah, project management. This particular quest led me to try so many tools through so many trials and countless reminders that my “15 days” were up. I worked with project management tools before, but I really wanted one that wouldn’t break my budget, would be easy to use and understand, and would be accessible to external parties (namely my clients who might want to see how things are going).

Really Social | Trello project management screenshot
Each Trello board consists of Cards with custom content.

After over six months of trials and dissatisfaction, I did what I should have done when my friend Erin Cell first recommended it: I tried out Trello, and I’ve never looked back.

Trello’s free use is so powerful and versatile that I’ve never cared about the premium level for increased features. Since it’s web-based, any user can access it once they are added by email. While others may set things up differently, I created a template Trello board containing standardized cards and lists which are consistent for each of my clients. I can create checklists, upload attachments from my computer or a cloud-based storage platform (like Google Drive), mention a specific user to alert them to a specific comment or issue, and shift around items and cards with drag-and-drop ease. (For a truly paranormal drilldown into Trello and how it works, check out this great review and walkthrough from The Freelance Effect.)

Oh, and remember Slack? Anytime I add or edit a client’s Trello board, an alert Is listed in that client’s Slack channel so any relevant team members have a heads-up. Want to know how I set that up?

IFTTT (logo)
IFTTT

IFTTT

I am a terrible cook (no, really), but the recipes I whip up in IFTTT are to be envied by Martha Stewart.

Really Social | IFTTT recipe example (screenshot)
IFTTT lets you build recipes: if this happens, then that happens.

IFTTT stands for If This, Then That. It’s a free website which connects your online profiles and platforms together through recipes (simple formulas) for a specific result. For instance, I connected my Trello account and my Slack account to my IFTTT profile. Once they were connected, I was able to create the following recipe for each client: if something is updated on my client’s Trello board, my client’s Slack channel will list the update.

This is simply the tip of the iceberg where IFTTT is concerned. I also have a recipe which recognizes when I check in via Foursquare using a specific hashtag; it then adds a new task to my Todoist list for that check-in. I also have recipes to add any new blog post to my Pinterest board for blogs and any new YouTube video upload to my board for videos. You can scroll through the available recipe and account options here; I bet you’ll find at least a handful of ones you can use today.

While this list does not provide all of the tools I use on a daily basis, here’s hoping at least one of these can help you work smarter instead of harder.  

I’d love to hear about the tools which help you work smarter. Please share them below!