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October 9, 2020

How to Use Zoom Tools for Audience Engagement

In this post, I'm covering how to use specific Zoom tools for audience engagement. While these tools are not complicated to use, it is good practice to become familiar with how they work. In my previous post, I discussed the ways these tools engage your audience.

How to Use Chat

Zoom Chat is the one of the easiest tools to use for audience engagement. It is built into Zoom AND doesn’t require any prep or setup prior to your presentation. If you have a large audience, ask a colleague to moderate the chat. The way you are not going back and forth between your conversation and the chat. If you are working with a coordinator, often they can act as a chat moderator or identify someone else.

For you, as the presenter, and all participants, just click the Chat button at the bottom of the Zoom window. In Screen Share mode, access Chat at the top of the window by clicking the More button (three horizontal dots). This displays either a separate popup window or embedded right-side panel. To add a chat, participants just need to type in their comment or question and then press their Enter/Return key. [looping gif of selecting chat, panel open, and typing in a question]


Creating a Poll

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Zoom Polling tool is not super robust. However, it works well for simple Yes/No, True/False, or short multiple-choice questions. Polling is a good Zoom tool for audience engagement because it requires more focus than just Chat. Prior to your presentation, identify the questions for the poll and then setup the Poll before you begin.

Within your web Zoom account, you do need to make sure Polling is activated on your Settings page. In the Meetings page, of your web Zoom account, click Create a Poll and add your questions. In the actual meeting, click the Polling button at the bottom of the Zoom window to open the poll. Click the Polling button again to close the poll.


Establishing a Virtual Bulletin Board

While Zoom doesn’t have a virtual bulletin board feature, it is fairly straightforward to set one up. This can be a good engagement tool when combined with other Zoom tools.

Two that I recommend are Padlet and Google Jam Board. My instructions here are for Padlet but other tools work in a similar way. You do need an account to create a bulletin board. Fortunately, both Padlet and Google Jam Boards have a free version.

To set up a board within Padlet:

  • Log into your account.
  • Click Make a Padlet.
  • Choose the Canvas layout and give the padlet a name
  • Adjust other settings like the background
  • Copy the web address to clipboard, and the
  • Click the Next button.

The view setting is automatically private. If your participants have the URL, you don’t need to change this view. However, you can change this in the Settings section once the padlet is created.

When you are ready during your presentation, paste this URL into the Chat. Participants just click the link to open the padlet and begin adding to it. Then share your screen to display the Padlet and you can comment as people are adding thoughts, ideas, and questions.


Courtesy of FlipHTML5

Setting up Zoom Breakout Rooms

Zoom Breakout Rooms require the most preparation. You want to think carefully about why and how you will be using them. Break rooms as a Zoom tool for audience engagement can be either a hit or a miss.

As a side note, you need to be the Host of the session to initiate Breakout Rooms. If you are working with a coordinator, who is also the designated Host, talk to them ahead of time to determine how Breakout Rooms can be facilitated.

Length of Time for Discussion

When deciding the length of time for small group activity, consider what you are having participants do and discuss. Make sure you balance the topic and amount of time. For instance, don’t ask participants to discuss the meaning of life but only give them 10 minutes.

Many people wonder how long a small group discussion should go. A good target time period for most discussions is 10 minutes. However, it really depends on the length of your presentation and how many times you plan to use Breakout Rooms. Fortunately, Zoom has built in timers. They will automatically move people back to the main presentation once the discussion time period has ended.

Choosing the Type of Room Assignment: Random or Designated

With Zoom Breakout Rooms there are two room assignment options. One is the random assignment of small groups, that happens in the moment, or designated room assignments.

For a Random Assignment, all you do is select the Breakout Rooms button at the bottom of the Zoom window. Another window will pop up and here you designate the number of people in each room and the length of time for discussion. Then you click the Assign Room Button.

For a designated room assignment, you download the room designation template from your web Zoom account. The file is a .csv file format. It can be opened in a spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheets. In this file, you list the room name and the email address of each person for that room. Then you upload the file via your web Zoom account. If you are not the Host of the meeting, work with your coordinator to setup this file. [looping gif with close up of adding room names and emails, Save, upload via Zoom account]

Once you are ready to start the small group discussions, the process is similar to the Random Assignment. You select the Breakout Rooms button at the bottom of the Zoom window. Another window will pop up and here you just designate the length of time for discussion.



One caveat to consider is the device you are using for engagement activities. While you can present successfully using a smart phone or tablet, facilitating engagement activities is easier on a computer. A computer provides a larger screen. Allowing you to see participants and use features like screen share and chat.

With a little bit of preplanning and up-front work, you can easily use one or more of the specific Zoom tools for audience engagement. Chat is the quickest and easiest to use but you want to preplan what questions you will ask. Polling and Virtual Bulletin boards allow for attendees to engage anonymously. Breakout rooms require the most planning but can create really unique engagement experiences.

In the next post, I will cover how to match engagement techniques to your audience.

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Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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