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.)

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