At a recent Ask Me Anything session I hosted, we had a great conversation about how to bring more engagement and richness to the chat during virtual programs. You can see the whole conversation here: 

Over the last year and a half, I have come to love the chat. 😍  Call me a virtual geek, but it’s true! It creates an opportunity to hear many more voices and quickly gather immense wisdom from the room. In thinking about an eventual return to in-person programming, I am already trying to figure out how I can replicate the robust feedback that chat can provide. 

If your virtual meetings or events are not already taking advantage an engaging chat experience, here are three ways to bring your conversation to life: 

1. Set expectations at the start for how the chat is going to be used.

For the Facilitator

Are you able to monitor the chat in real time and speak to questions as they come up, or do you have an assistant who will be writing and responding there? Or is it too overwhelming for you to try and keep up with the chat as you deliver content, so you let participants know they chat is there for them to talk amongst themselves? Any of these scenarios is fine, just be clear from the outset. 

For the Participants 

You can ask an opening question at the beginning of your session that gets participants using the chat immediately. You can also use the chat as a place for participants to share wisdom with each other in the form of ideas, suggestions and resources, which creates an environment of peer-to-peer learning. The goal is to emphasize to the group that “We’re going to engage, we’re going to contribute and we’re going to do it in the chat.” The earlier you do that the better, since the beginning sets the tone for everything to come. (One caveat is that chat can be overwhelming for some participants, especially when you have a big group and the chat stream is moving quickly, so you can also give them the option to ignore it completely and just focus on the gallery view.)


2. Use emojis and reactions and invite others in the chat to do the same. An emoji can create a more playful, open culture in your program and allows participants personality to shine through. I can’t tell you how excited people get to use emojis in the chat, and the recent Zoom update has a new emoji menu built in 🥳

Fun and meaningful ways to use emojis

      1. Put an emoji in the chat that represents how you are feeling right now
      2. Share the emoji you use most often and why that one is your favorite
      3. Add an emoji to your screen name that represents an aspect of you that people rarely see

3. Close your program with a waterfall of gratitude. Play some background music and ask participants to write in the chat their main takeaways and appreciations from other participants. This is one of my favorite ways to close a program, and is a beautiful way to reflect and integrate an experience, letting participants read and absorb gratitude shared by the group

Don’t forget to change it up! Anything you rely on too much is going to get dull and boring for our audience, so chat should be one of your engagement methods but not the only one. Mix up the strategies of connecting throughout your program to keep participants engaged and be able to welcome all voices. 

If YOU have a question about experience design or facilitation, join us at our next Ask Me Anything session on October 7. Register here.