One measure of audience engagement in a virtual panel discussion is the use of the chatbox. One of my clients said, “I want to see the chatbox blow up [with tons of comments]!” And while that might be a laudable goal, it’s not always appropriate.
As a professional panel moderator, I like to keep the chatbox functionality “on” in case the participants want to chat. However,
While almost all digital platforms HAVE a chatbox, the question is HOW to use the chatbox.
In your introductory remarks including comments about the platform, either encourage or discourage the use of the chatbox AND give a little guidance as to how participants can use the chatbox. Here is what I typically say:
“The chatbox is a perfect place to capture key takeaways, insights, or additional information you can add to the conversation. Please use it to benefit all of the participants. If there is something you want to say to a moderator, panelist, or participant, please direct your chat to that person. Just use the @ sign followed by the starting few characters of the person you want to mention. If you have a question you’d like to ask, either put it in the question box OR type ‘QUESTION’ in capital letters before your question, so I’ll be able to see it and quickly find it in the chatbox.”
I then like to add this comment:
“PLEASE remember that for some, the chatbox can be very distracting. If you get distracted, just close your chatbox. Yet some of us suffer from “fear of missing out” (FOMO) where we feel compelled to keep the chatbox open and read ALL the comments – just in case we have a need to know. So for the benefit of others, please use the chatbox constructively and limit the seemingly random thoughts, comments, and shout outs that do not contribute to the overall conversation.”
Note: If you don’t care if there are random comments in the chatbox, then don’t say that last part. Sometimes, community and connection are just as important as what is being said during the panel discussion.
At the conclusion of the panel, the chatbox is a great way for the audience to send kudos and compliments to the panelists. Furthermore, you can save the chatbox to capture the key takeaways. Clean it up a bit and send it to the audience as a reminder and to the panelists to thank them for their brilliance!
Personally, I like having the functionality of the chatbox during a virtual panel discussion. Sometimes I use it, and other times I don’t. As a panel moderator, it is our responsibility to share how BEST to use the chatbox.