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Yesterday I asked my wise and worldly readers to outline the emergent etiquette around when to put questions in the chat in Zoom, as opposed to speaking them out loud.

As always, they stepped up. My thanks to everyone who responded!

The good and bad news is that there doesn’t seem to be a consistent rule yet. But folks came up with some good perspectives via email and Twitter:

“The idea it’s an etiquette issue is odd. If the comment needs to be written, because it contains a hyperlink or is tangential or of interest to only a couple of people, chat. If the comment benefits the collaborative feel, it can be made by mic. There is literally a hand to raise.”

I agree that the hand-raise feature is great, and became even better when it became more conspicuous. But it only works when the person running the meeting observes it.

“It can feel a little chaotic for some to post to the chat and others chiming in aloud. I have noticed more people using the raise hand feature. This makes the most sense to me as long as the chair is watching for it and calling on people.”


“Our usual practice at [college] is that if someone wishes to ask a question or make a comment, they put "Q1" or "C1" (or 2, 3, etc.) in the chat, and then they are called on … or if they prefer to type in their question or comment, then the moderator will read them.”

I like this because it’s easier to manage. I might steal this one.

“I will also use the chat feature when another person is talking and it does not look like they are likely to wrap up soon. I don’t want to interrupt, but I want to get my thoughts out there for consideration. Finally, a number of my Zoom meetings involve people from around the world, and the language of the meeting is English, but English is not the first language for many attendees. I want to give non-native English speakers plenty of time to present their ideas. Instead of hurrying them along, adding comments in chat seems to be a polite way of adding ideas but letting others speak at their own comfortable pace.”

I love the idea of chat as a sort of closed captioning. Even native speakers have had the frustration of being in meetings, missing something and then wondering whom to ask, “What did he say?” Chat allows a reasonably elegant workaround.

“If it’s in the faculty senate (which I chair), I’ll typically ask the senator to raise the issue on the floor so that it’s treated as normal on-the-record stuff. We are governed by our state’s open public meetings act. (Attendees can’t use the chat at all.) However, if the comment is of the “aww, cute cat” or “congrats!” or “thanks!” variety, I’ll typically not remark on it. (Some people send these to all, rather than just privately.) So my rule is that no important business or conversations happen only in chat, but things we might normally have handled through body language can happen in the chat.

For a large public forum that involves taking questions from the audience, Q&A is the best way I’ve seen to handle that on Zoom. Chat gets unwieldy even with one person moderating it while another speaks. It’s easy to miss people’s questions, and the audience starts carrying on entire conversations in chat while the panelists are still many questions behind (if attendees can chat with anyone).”

The Q&A works pretty well in a webinar. Probably less well in a meeting. But I had to smile in recognition at people posting “aww” messages to all. I’ve done that myself.

“In our weekly meetings of all the presidents and chancellors of the state community and technical colleges, the chat room serves as a way to share information about the topic at hand for your individual institution. We often have 50+ participants, including the State Board staff. so having everyone raise their hand and speak would be unwieldy. We also use online surveys if the question requires a simple yes or no. Sometimes, the State Board staff will ask about funding issues, enrollments or vaccination rates and everyone can share data for their institution in the chat room. Mostly, presidents comment on statements being made by system staffer or other presidents in real time. I have sometimes directed comments or questions to individual presidents who I know have situations similar to mine.”

Sounds about right.

“I attend as many as 6 zoom meetings each week. In one of them I am the VP of a [university] Online Cohort and I do monitor questions in the chat for the speaker or student practicing their defense or whatever the topic is. We have as many as 40 participants. The president monitors the overall meeting. We also have 4 faculty at most meetings. One person collects new emails, I do the chat questions, and another introduces the leadership team and the plan for the night. We teach the participants the etiquette of a large zoom meeting by raising their virtual hand and we can mute everyone.”

If you can get enough people involved, this makes a lot of sense. Often, though, that level of labor-intensiveness isn’t really an option in my world. (I also envy anyone who only has six Zoom meetings a week!)

Finally, this from Chad Orzel:

“For big faculty meetings, I’m very much in favor of requiring questions to be typed into Q&A/chat because it dramatically reduces the grandstanding and filibustering we’re otherwise prone to.”

I have no idea what he’s referring to.

Zoom is still relatively new; I wouldn’t be surprised to see the etiquette solidify more over time. It looks like we’re not quite there yet. But I’m encouraged at the thoughtfulness with which folks are weighing the issues. Zoom may have been jump-started by a pandemic, but it might wind up helping us make meetings -- especially larger ones -- fairer for all involved.

Thanks, everyone!

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