Chat as a Vital Tool for Webinars and Webmeetings

It goes without saying that one of the most important functions of a meeting is talking to each other. We give input. We make silly jokes. We introduce ourselves and get to know one another. Yet when we meet online, there is often a tendency to limit this essential interaction.

Sometimes this is for technical reasons. It's hard to talk when you can't see each other. We worry about talking over one another, and many online programs use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) which means when more than one person speaks at a time the sound cuts out and can be very frustrating. Fortunately, webmeetings give us an additional way to communicate: the chat function.

Many people (dare I suggest the majority are older?) find chat either distracting or impersonal. Many new presenters are afraid it will become a distraction and try to limit the chat that takes place. They worry that people will say something inappropriate or off topic. The only response to that is to ask if those things every happen in a live meeting? How do you handle those situations? The same facilitation and leadership skills apply to managing the chat.

In fact, to a couple of generations of workers, writing in a little box and sending your thoughts into the ether is a perfectly natural way to "talk" to each other. Facebook, Twitter, chat, instant messaging and twitter are a natural part of the way we speak to one another.

Think of the conference calls you've been on. We often have the same challenges we do during web meetings. We hear from the same people all the time. Some folks dominate the conversation, some need to be urged to speak up. Some just disappear from the meeting entirely. It's no different with webmeetings, except that you have an additional way for people to put their two cents in.

Using chat can give your introverts a chance to participate, get questions lined up, and create a permanent record of everyone's opinion on important topics. Yet the chat function is actually more than just a way of simulating the conversation in a meeting. It serves both a synchronous (everyone talking at the same time to each other) and asynchronous (you can go back over time and refer to it) function.

Most chat functions allow you to keep a permanent record of what is said. This isn't (or at least shouldn't be) a way to keep tabs on who makes inappropriate statements or who takes part and who isn't. It is, however, a great way to have a reference document of questions asked, what people actually thought about a topic, or track action items.

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