How to Use the Chat Box, Respectfully

Over the past months of virtual meetings – and there have been plenty of them – there has been much testing and experimentation with technology. One such technique has been the Chat feature; all virtual platforms have it and most of us use it.

For me, the Chat feature has helped to enliven and enrich meetings, convenings and trainings. So, imagine my surprise when while planning for a Board meeting, our Board Chair commented that the Chat is “disruptive and sometimes rude”.

Of course, he is right. There is certainly misuse as well as misunderstanding of this heavily used virtual platform feature.

Here are tips to consider:

  1. Plan/design how the Chat will be used in your meeting. If it doesn’t help to achieve the goals of your time together, you probably should not use it.
  2. Share how the Chat will be used and explain why. Reasons may include:
    • To offer a secondary dialogue about the topic
    • To invite in voices that are less able to share aloud in the full group or breakout rooms
    • To offer a safer space for introverts to share
    • To collect data being generated in the breakout rooms or group discussion
    • To generate ideas silently first, before starting work or dialogue
    • To share information that participants can refer back to during the meeting
    • To offer a space to share if someone is having audio challenges
  3. Invite resource and information sharing. Some examples are:
    • Share the meeting agenda copied into Chat Box at beginning of meeting
    • Link to a file or information that is being referred to during the meeting
    • Share information upon request during discussion
    • Encourage participation or discussion as designed
    • Share questions in the large group that are needed in breakout rooms (they will then also be in the Chat in breakout rooms)
  4. Take a few seconds to confirm the relevance of your comments. Consider asking questions such as:
    • Is this a simple response to someone’s question that will complement current conversation?
    • Is this background information that others may want or need?
    • Can I keep this under 140 characters?
    • Am I sharing this for my own ego or to further the dialogue or work we are doing?
    • Is this better shared aloud or at another time?
  5. Avoid side-conversations. Writing private messages to people you haven’t seen in a while or good friends, is a natural temptation. If you do, keep it brief and save the longer conversation for another time. Remember, you have been invited to the meeting for a reason and you need to remain fully present in the meeting.

Personally, I love the Chat feature – it is a helpful tool when used well. However, a facilitator is wise to invite someone to assist with it. Planning and facilitating a meeting well usually is a team effort. Clarify your roles and ensure one person is monitoring, feeding, resourcing, and recording key ideas in the Chat.

Like any new feature, tool, or technique we need to use the Chat in moderation. Let’s use it intentionally and always be clear why you are inviting people to use it.

How do you most like using the Chat feature?

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Virginia McMullan has been IBP’s Director of Operations since September, 2015. Her role includes human resources and institutional strengthening, and as such, she has been championing the learning-centered approach. Her goal is to further IBP’s impact by empowering CSOs to bring about open and inclusive budgeting processes in a complex multi-stakeholder environment.

Here are other recent blogs written by IBP Staff:

Here are other GLP blogs about Zoom features: