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This is how to have meaningful conversations in a Zoom chat room

My first experience in a Zoom chat room was awesome. The moderator was super friendly, everyone wanted to be there and was in a good mood, and my friend, Audrey Taylor inspired us to chair dance to Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” We had a ball together! That experience allowed me to feel really confident going into future chat rooms. The second time around, there was no moderator and all four of us shared stories of childhood. We were supposed to be talking about the content presented, however, we used the time to bond instead.

What I’ve experienced consistently is that chat rooms are a lot of fun! Even if you are a self proclaimed introvert and/or the art of conversation isn’t your thing, you can make friends and build trusting relationships if you are prepared for the opportunity. This article will help you understand the purpose of a chat room and how to effectively communicate and enjoy your time together with new and old friends and colleagues.

What is a Zoom chat room?

A chat room is like a virtual break out session. The meeting host provides the opportunity for attendees to go into smaller groups to continue the conversation from the main meeting or simply network with people in your group. The meeting host has the option of using a feature to randomly select who goes into each chat room or deciding before the meeting who goes where. The meeting host will typically explain the chat room interaction procedure as well as how long you will be there before returning to the “main” room.

Here’s an example of how The Startup Ladies use chat rooms for Startup Study Hall:

  • From 7:30pm - 8:00pm we’ll be using chat rooms.

  • There will be 2 sessions: 7:30pm - 7:45pm and 7:45pm - 8:00pm

  • 1 question/topic will be provided for each chat room session for the group to discuss.

  • After each session, we will return to the main room.

  • We’ll provide a prompt to determine who will serve as moderator in the chat room.

  • The moderator will introduce themself, and then invite people to introduce themselves, and then ask the chat room to noodle on the question/topic provided by the meeting host.

Turn on the video so that people can see you.

Chat rooms are designed to make you feel like you’re at a dinner party. People want to see you. If you are having video connection problems, you’re welcome to stay, just let everyone know and that you would like to participate.

Keep your microphone on.

Once you’re in a chat room, it’s perfectly fine to keep your microphone on. This is going to be a small group conversation so you want to hear the laughter and give everyone the ability to engage in a natural conversation.

Moderator....please rise!

Sometimes there will be a chat room host or moderator assigned. In some cases, the meeting organizer will have prepped the chat room host. To mix things up, the meeting organizer may assign moderators by saying something fun like: “Ok, we’ll have the person with the coolest glasses serve as moderator.” Or maybe, “The person with the most tropical background gets to be moderator.” Or even, “The person wearing the most green gets to be the moderator.” You get the jist!

This moderator will welcome guests and direct traffic. Typically, she will introduce herself, remind you how long you will be in the chat room, and prompt you to introduce yourself in a particular way. You must respect the Chat room host! They are there to make sure that everyone participates and no one drones on for too long.

No chat room moderator? YOU can do it!

OK, so no one announces that they are hosting the room. The first thing you do is ask, “Do we have a moderator in the room?” No dice? No problem. Here’s what to do...

  • Introduce yourself...BRIEFLY.

  • If it’s a small chat room (6 people or less) ask each person to introduce themselves BRIEFLY. For example: share your name, title and company.

  • Repeat the question or topic the meeting host shared that everyone will noodle on together.

  • Ask who has any thoughts/opinions/experience.

  • If guests arrive late, welcome them after whoever is speaking finishes what they have to say.

  • Make sure that everyone gets the chance to participate.

  • Watch the time. In 15 minutes, everyone will automatically be re-routed back to the main room. Try to get the group to wrap up the conversation within 15 minutes.

Use the chat room to network.

Sometimes the meeting host will want attendees to develop their networking muscles. In this case, there won’t be any structure in the chat room. Personally, I love when this happens because it gives me the chance to get to know people. Always use a chat room without any structure as an opportunity to introduce yourself and make meaningful connections. Here is what to do if you land in an open networking chat room.

---> Introduction basics

  • Ask if there is a moderator.

  • If not, introduce yourself. Here’s an example:

  • “Hey guys! My name is Kristen Cooper and I’m a member of The Startup Ladies. I own a company called The Startup Ladies and am really looking forward to getting to know some of the new faces in here.”

  • Look at the list of people in the room. Choose someone you don’t know, and say, “Hey Beatrice, we haven’t had the chance to meet yet. Could you tell us about yourself?”

---> Conversation Starters

I am both an observational and situational conversation starter. I’m prone to comment and ask questions about new people, glasses, jewelry, clothes, backgrounds, experience, and interpretations of what the main speaker shared. If you don’t feel natural starting up a conversation, here are a few questions to pose to the group to get a good discussion started:

  • What is something new that you learned from the speaker?

  • What part of the presentation will help your company the most?

  • Has anyone had any big wins lately?

  • Who’s reading the next book club book?

  • Has your company made any pivots during the pandemic that helped you grow?

  • What’s been your company’s biggest hurdle? (This is the BEST lead generation question to ask on earth! I have closed a lot of deals because I’ve asked this question throughout my career.)

  • Who are you following on social media that is teaching you new things?

  • Has anyone done anything really fun lately?

  • Did Covid prompt your company to do something different that turned out to be a benefit?

  • Which past speakers do fellow members think I should take a look at on the e-learning platform (Startup Study Hall Online).

Your job is to make people feel welcome and comfortable.

This is NEVER one person’s job. It’s EVERYONE’S job. If you are part of a community, you have a responsibility to the group to be kind, take the initiative to welcome and include new people (of every gender and background) and be a conversation STARTER. Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to do it. Lighten someone else’s load - especially newbies. They don’t know the culture and procedure. Help reduce social anxiety by being the friendly person who is accepting, encouraging, and engaging.

It’s OK to disagree!

It would be silly to think that a bunch of smart people getting together are going to agree on everything. Not gonna happen! So be prepared to disagree diplomatically. Offering a different experience and perspective is how we better understand problems that need to be solved. Be clear and be respectful when articulating your viewpoint. It’s good to let the person (with whom you are disagreeing) know that you appreciate their position and look forward to getting to know them and their work better at future events. The ultimate goal is to propel the relationships that you create in chat rooms forward.

Remember, you’re here to expand your network.

Approach a chat room the same way that you would approach a dinner party or networking event in person. Keep in mind that you have several advantages:

  1. You’re automatically put into small groups with the soul purpose of getting to know each other and sharing information.

  2. The people in the chat room want to get to know you.

  3. You always have common knowledge to begin can ask each other about the presentation you just heard.

Look for ways to seek and share information to determine if there are strategic ways to work together collaboratively in the future. Be sure to share contact information in a private chat thread. Enjoy yourself and your new friends and peers in the chat room!


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