You log onto your online meeting, you engage in the discussion. Then you notice that there is a lot going on in the chat… People seem to have a lot to say!
So you take a look, you perhaps even add an emoji or two, you add to something someone has said, they made a good point. Then you tune back into the discussion. You realise that you missed something, how did they get onto this? What about that really valid point Chris just made in the chat? Sound familiar?
I’ve noticed that people are using the chat function differently in online meetings. It strikes me that people have very different approaches. Like most of the habits we create and ways in which we work, it’s not something that has been discussed and everyone assumes that they do it the same way as everyone else.
When I’ve been delivering training I’ve seen people send questions or issues that they would like to remain anonymous sent through the chat. It’s also been super helpful to have someone explain in the chat if I’ve pronounced a delegate name incorrectly. I have greatly appreciated those things.
I have taken part in a few webinars myself and found that there have been fellow delegates I know and wanted to say ‘hi’ to or people I would value continuing a conversation with and would have liked to send a direct message to (there wasn’t a chat function available). The chat can be helpful beyond those moments where you ask someone to turn off the coffee machine, remove the barking dog or explain that there is someone naked in the background of the camera view (ok, that last one hasn’t happened to me but others tell me it’s happened to them!).
What happens when the chat function doesn’t work so well?
It’s when a separate conversation begins. Where what is being discussed verbally is added to or new elements added in the chat. You see, despite the world of work thinking that multitasking is the answer to everything, it is, in fact, the enemy to getting good work done. When you are multitasking you are more likely to make a mistake, it takes longer and feels more difficult. The research will tell you this, but I’ve done a brief multitasking challenge in workshops with more than a thousand people and I can tell you that we demonstrate this every time.
When new information is added to the chat, and not to the verbal conversation, there is the risk that two parallel conversations are had. That people have to make an often unconscious choice to decide where to focus their brainpower. Not everyone sees the chat at the same time. Someone else will read that and lose the thread of the conversation being had.
How can we make the chat function useful?
Do keep using the chat for explaining to me how to pronounce names, I find that helpful.
If you are chairing a discussion, explain how you would like people to use the chat. Asking people to use this function in a particular way can be useful. You might ask people to share their ideas, or views via the chat at a specific time in the meeting. Everyone then does that at the same time. That allows everyone to think about their ideas and contributions without being swayed by others. It allows people to fully articulate what they think without being interrupted. And that helps people to think about and communicate their ideas fully. You can then give people time to read the contributions of everyone else. You can pull out key points and identify areas that do not need further discussion as a consensus is identified. It will allow you to see where there is a need for further conversation, and work towards that being a balanced conversation where different ideas are brought in.
Using the chat in that way works. Using the chat in a way that some people have had a different experience of a virtual meeting is less helpful.
If you lead virtual meetings, you can introduce that as an idea. If you aren’t leading the meeting, make sure that your chat room etiquette doesn’t involve you adding new things or things that can take the conversation in a different direction. When you do notice that in the chat, it’s always worth pointing it out so that those comments and views can be included.
How else are you finding chat rooms in virtual meetings to be helpful?
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