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Dealing with Rude and Distracting Side Conversations in the Chat During On-Line Conferences

By Mike Thompson, 3 December, 2022


Online presenter trying to make a point - ... and the most important thing I want you to remember today is ... - With lots of rude side conversations in the chat going bla bla bla

Ever since the advent of the On-line Conference and the addition of the Chat feature, both Event Speakers and Conference Attendees have struggled with this common problem.  That is rude and distracting side conversations taking place in the chat during the presentations.

Many, if not all of us have witnessed this problem.  We sign up for a Conference and look forward to a particular Speaker.  That Speaker comes on and begins their presentation.  Just then a pop up on the screen to Everyone says something like,  “Hello from Judy from Sunny Florida!  How is the weather where you are?  Who is this guy that is talking?  Anybody heard of him?”  Then of course several friends of Judy are compelled to respond, creating a side conversation during the presentation.

Sadly, this situation is not uncommon.  Unfortunately, these side conversations continue throughout the presentation and the entire conference.  Sometimes the Chat session has something to do with what the speaker is saying but often it does not.  In any case these rude distracting side conversations would never be tolerated in a non-virtual setting.  Why then, do we think it is somehow acceptable to have them in a virtual setting?

Now if you are a Blind Person using a Screen Reader to access the On-Line Conference, each time one of these rude distracting side chat conversations takes place you also hear it through your Screen Reader over the top of the person who is presenting.  This kicks the rudeness factor up many levels!

So we all came to a conference to hear specific presenters speak on specific topics. But now, like it or not, we are treated to Judy’s rude and distracting side conversation instead.  Most Conferences offer a time for questions and comments where others who are attending may participate.  However, this time is usually never during the time the speaker is presenting, unless it is organized so that the speaker is aware and is a part of the process as well.

If Judy were physically present in the room at the  Conference, her behavior would not be considered acceptible at all.  See Chat Box Commenting in Virtual Meetings While People Talk Is Rude for more examples.

This problem has become so common it makes you wonder why the On-Line Conference host doesn’t simply either turn off or limit the chat functionality during the Speaker presentations.  This topic should be in an On-Line Conference 101 Manual somewhere!  As a matter of fact, Public Speaking Coach / Presentations Coach Debbie Fay writes about this in her article, "Can we stop with the chatting in Zoom? (and WebEx, Google Hangouts…)".  In it, she notes: ”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 shows 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 and a mental energy toll as well.

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 say so important that it can’t wait? Probably not.”

So what can we do about it?

Zoom support offers a complete guide for Enabling or disabling in-meeting chatThis can be set in a couple of different ways.

Disabling in-meeting chat prevents the host, co-hosts, and participants from chatting in any meetings. The Chat option will no longer appear in the participant controls.

If you don't want to disable chat for everyone, you can still disable private chat, which prevents participants from sending private messages to other participants in the meeting. Participants will still be able to privately message with the host. 

Hopefully, wise use of this feature by the host will help eliminate Rude and Distracting Side Conversations in the Chat During On-Line Conferences.  Not only will this make the conference more pleasant for the Speaker and the Audience, but it will make it more friendly and Accessible for People using Screen Readers as well.


Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community!

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