Can we stop with the chatting in Zoom? (and WebEx, Google Hangouts…)


OK, maybe not altogether, but I’m raising the flag to put a stop to all the “chatting” during remote presentations and meetings. It’s distracting, it’s borderline rude, and it’s undermining an already challenging method of communication.

You may think that chatting during a remote meeting or presentation is no big deal; after all, (you think) people can read your chat and still listen to whoever is speaking. Uh, not so much. Research proves that when we move from task to task we are not “multi-tasking” we are “switch-tasking”. Switch-tasking is exactly what it sounds like. We go from one task (listening to the speaker) to another (reading the chat) and there is a time delay while we switch tasks.

Thinking that attendees in the remote meeting can decide for themselves whether or not to pay attention to your chat? Not exactly. Research also tells us that humans notice inclusion, exclusion and change. In other words; we notice what appears, disappears and moves. When the chat box appears we notice it. We may make a concerted effort not to read it, but it has distracted us nonetheless. And really, is what we have to chat about so important that it can’t wait? Probably not.

When we send a chat not only are we distracting the audience, we’re diminishing the speaker’s message, the cohesiveness of the meeting, possibly the making of important decisions with our distracting chatter. How? Our chatter is taking up head space in the receiver’s mind where the speaker’s comments, or the team’s conversation or the vote on a decision should be.

So, if we know it’s audience-distracting and message-diminishing, then we have to admit it’s impolite to be chatting in a remote meeting or presentation. We would never chat while someone else was speaking in a live in-person setting. At least not if we were raised properly. (OK, I may be stepping over the line here, but you get the idea.)

Oh, and one more thing. If you think you’re being polite because you’re directing your chat to someone privately, I would ask you to consider that you’re distracting the person to whom you’re chatting. You’re taking their attention away from whoever has the floor. Are you certain the recipient of your chat welcomes this distraction? If not, control yourself. Text them or email them – or even call them, after the meeting or presentation is over. Then you can have their undivided attention. Super polite! Well done you!

Convinced? I hope so. Let’s all pledge to control ourselves. Refrain from chatting during meetings and presentations. Let’s give the speakers (and our fellow attendees) our attention and best manners. Then we’ll be NAILING this whole remote communication thing.

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