How to enrich an online event by using the chat function?

The challenge

Virtual events can be complex: , there is limited speaking time, they require tracking of multiple things going on in parallel, and it is difficult to get a sense of the participant group as everyone is joining individually from a different location. Small issues that can normally be resolved quickly on the sideline of a face-to-face event or would not even occur in that setting can disrupt the entire flow of the online event.


The solution

A chat provides an alternative communication channel during an online event (either within the moderation team or between the moderators and the participants or between the participants). It can help to avoid disrupting the main flow of the event (e.g. if someone wants to signal a technical issue) or it can be used in parallel to supplement the event (e.g. sharing links to videos, exercises, etc.). Chat functions are included in all videoconferencing tools, so they are easily accessible to participants and licenses do not need to be purchased separately by the organizing team.
Areas of application:
All kinds of virtual events, such as online seminars, classroom trainings, workshops, etc.


The chat is ideal for short messages or contributions, as it happens in parallel to the online event. The chat function of videoconference tools is often crucial to assure full attentiveness of the participants in addition to the communication via video and audio. The chat can also be a key tool to help participants with technical problems, e.g. setting up their microphones.

In specific, the chat can be used by the moderators to:

  • visualize questions open for discussion among the participants;
  • visualize interim results (e.g. statements) of a discussion among the participants;
  • start a simple poll/get answer to a simple question (e.g. yes/no questions, participants answer in the chat);
  • provide links to external sources (e.g. report/website/ video/surveys) which the participants need to view immediately.


The chat can be used by the participants to:

  • raise content questions;
  • raise technical questions;
  • respond to the moderator’s questions/ instructions (see above)
  • respond to other participants.

The moderation team should have a clear joint strategy on how to use the chat function. For example, it might be useful to allot a specific timeframe during which participants can use the chat. For example, if a Q&A session is organized, give participants five minutes to formulate their questions. Then ask them to stop to avoid having too many questions.

The strategy can include e.g. assigning a member of the organizing team as a “chat moderator” and/or clear rules on how to use the chat (see hints/experiences below.)

Communication between main moderator(s) and co-moderator(s) has to be organized through a different channel (e.g. a private chat).


Tools and technical aspects

Of the videoconferencing tools offered by PTB, only Tixeo and Jitsi offer a function where individual participants can be contacted via chat. Otherwise, chat messages are always open and visible to everyone.
Depending on the type of microphone, the sound of typing can be picked up and heard by the rest of the participants. Thus, the microphone should be turned off when using a chat.
For videoconferencing tools that do not have a “raise hand” function, an “x” or “*” in the chat can be used as an alternative.
Organizers should be aware that when participants get disconnected due to technical issues or leave the conference for a scheduled break, they no longer see the full chat record when they join again. Co-moderators/moderators have to evaluate whether the content posted before is still relevant at that point of the event and if so, re-post it in the chat and/or save it for the documentation.


Other considerations

  • Extensive parallel discussions in the chat can be distracting. One member of the moderation team should always follow the chat and be able to intervene in such a case.
  • The moderation team should make sure to be aware of points being raised in the chat, e.g. to avoid moving on to the next topic when there is still a need for discussion. The main moderator or input provider can regularly consult or give the floor to their co-moderator, who is in charge of monitoring the chat, to report on the issues arising there.
  • In a big meeting, keeping an overview of the chat discussion can be difficult and distracting. The moderation team could develop “chat rules” (e.g. only one contribution per topic and participant) to avoid such a situation.
  • If participants are hesitant to speak, the chat can be used to get them to contribute quickly and easily (e.g. “if you all agree with this strategy, write “yes” into the chat).
  • If a participant has problems with their microphone, they could use the chat for their contributions.
  • If a participant does not speak the event’s language very well actively, they might also prefer using the chat. If you are aware of participants preferring other languages which a member of your moderation team understands, you might consider giving them the possibility to write in their own language.
  • In DFN, the chat is not visible at the same time as participants’ list (including raised hands).


Laura Haeussler

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