Some Community-Building Zoom Tips

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Ok, so by the time this is released, I realized that many folks will be well past the point of using Zoom or other video conferencing as much as many of us did during the height of the COVID pandemic.  Still, if you find yourself using it in the future, I thought I would share some tips that can be used to develop community and connection in video conferences.  

Map the Room

This activity is great if you know you are working with an international group or can be tailored if you know the full geography of people participating.  Find a map of the world--I often go to Creative Commons to find mine.  Also--bonus points if you find a map that does not center the United States or the Atlantic Ocean--like this one!  It offers an opportunity for people to interact, a bit of playfulness, and to understand where people are currently located.  

Pacific Centered Map
Source: Wikimedia

What to do:
  1. Open up the image of the map on your computer. (These directions relate to Zoom but are translatable to other video-conferencing tools).
  2. Share your screen and select the map to share.
  3. Check your Security button and that you have allowed for "Annotate on Shared Content"
  4. Select the Annotate button on your Zoom toolbar
  5. Explain to participants that they will use the annotation toolbar (by clicking on the Annotation button) and be able to draw on the shared screen.
  6. Demonstrate to them that you would like them to indicate where they are from by drawing a circle, star, or whatever shape you want where you are currently located.
  7. Encourage them to use different colors or shapes and give them a few minutes to fill it out.  
  8. As you come to finish the activity, encourage them to see where people are from and if there are people near them.  
  9. Before you stop sharing, be sure to save the image, and where relevant, share it with participants later on as the group's first "Zoom selfie".  
Additional considerations
  • Keeping accessibility in mind, if you know there are people who have visual disabilities, you might forgo this activity or encourage them to use the chat to indicate where they are located and you or another volunteer can add it.
  • You can build on the additions to the map by also asking people to mark if they grew up or lived somewhere else for 1 year or longer (or some other duration) to continue to develop commonalities.

Polling Expectations

I really enjoy this game as it reminds of one of my favorite board games, Wits And Wages.  It requires using the Polling feature in Zoom or finding some other alternative. I like Zoom's polling feature as it allows you to create sets of questions, which is important here. The goal is to get a sense of participant answers as well as the participants' expectations about the least and most popular answers.

What to do:
  1. Log into your Zoom account and go into the edit features for the session that you will be running.
  2. Go to the Polling feature and begin to add questions.  
  3. For the first question set, the first question should be the question you want people to share their opinion (I share some examples below).  E.g. "What is your favorite season?"
  4. When given the option, I strongly encourage making these anonymous.
  5. Enter the answers. E.g Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer
  6. Typically, for these questions, you should choose the answer to be Single-answer and not multiple-answer (radio buttons, not checkboxes).
  7. Add a second question to the Question Set that says, "What do you think will be the MOST POPULAR answer by the crowd?"  Provide the same answers that you provided in the first question.
  8. Add a third question to the Question Set that says, "What do you think will be the LEAST POPULAR answer by the crowd?" Provide the same answers that you provided in the first question.
  9. Save the poll.
  10. Repeat steps 3-8 for as many questions that you have.  (I recommend about 3-5 in total)
  11. When you deploy the polls, be sure to explain what they are doing.  That is, you want them to understand that each question set will have 3 questions, asking a question, and then 2 questions about their expectations about the room as a whole.  
  12. Be sure to give enough time for folks to answer and then some time to talk about the results (you'll want to make sure to "Share the Results" so folks can see.  If you've made these anonymous, be sure to mention that for reassurance.
  13. Depending on the reason for your gathering, you can also load some interesting and topic-relevant questions that provide the opportunity to discuss further.
Some really fun questions and answers that you are welcome to borrow:

What is/was your preferred means of communicating in COIVD-times? ( Single Choice)
  1. Telephone/Cellphone call
  2. Video-chat (Zoom, Google Meet, etc)
  3. Text message (text, WhatsApp, Signal, etc)
  4. Social media (Twitter, SnapChat, etc)
  5. Postal mail
  6. Carrier Pigeon
  7. Fax Machine
  8. None. 2020 leads me to believe nothing good can come from communicating. :)
What time in a given 24 hours are you most awake and productive? ( Single Choice)
  1. 5am-10am
  2. 10am-3pm
  3. 3pm-8pm
  4. 8pm-1am
  5. 1am-5am
  6. Time? What is time?
Beverage of choice for getting through the School Year/Work/Project ( Single Choice)
  1. Coffee
  2. Soda
  3. Tea
  4. Water
  5. Ummm...can I say a discrete liquid that I probably shouldn’t refer to drinking while at work?
ALIENS!?!?! ( Single Choice)
  1. Don’t all.
  2. Exist but are staying far away from Earth
  3. Existed, visited Earth, and now are staying away.
  4. Exist and visit Earth regularly--mostly just to mess with us.
  5. Exist and help to explain the last few years
  6. Shut up, no one is supposed to know that I walk among you!
You enter a room and there is a giant red button that says “DO NOT PRESS.”  What do you do?  ( Single Choice)
  1. Press it?  Press it!  PRESS IT!!! OMG--HAVE YOU PRESSED IT YET?
  2. Hard pass--I’ve seen this horror movie before. I’m not pressing it.
  3. Bribe someone else into pressing it.
  4. Trick someone into pressing it.

Things In Common

This activity is one that can spur community and connection in a way that can be fun and interesting.  It entails using the breakout rooms feature and randomly sorting folks so that they end up in groups of ideally 2, but up to 3 folks depending on size and getting them to figure out what they have in common. What I like is that even if groups don't find they have things in common, they have spend a few minutes getting to learn about one another as they quickly share things about themselves in their pursuit of common ground.

What To Do
  1. Explain that they will be put into random breakout rooms and have a set amount of time (I encourage no less than 5 minutes).
  2. During that time, they should quickly introduce themselves.
  3. They should then move into figuring out all the things that they have in common.
  4. Clarify it should be substantial things besides they're all in a zoom room using a webcam or the specific purpose they are there for the gathering.
  5. Encourage them to start with common things they could move through quickly such as food, family structures, and the like but that they should try to continue to get more specific.
  6. Reiterate that people should only share what they are comfortable sharing.
  7. Send them off to their breakout rooms.
  8. Give a halfway warning.
  9. When you bring them back, for a show of hands (on camera or virtual hands) how many found they had 5 things in common, then move up in increments of 5.  If you get to a point where there are only 2-3 left, ask them to say how many things either by unmuting or using the chat.
  10. Ask people to share some of the interesting things in common they had, so long as they are comfortable.
  11. Also, encourage folks to share in the chat.
  12. Finally, ask the question, "Beyond what you found you had in common, what were some interesting and insightful things you learned about your partner?"

Story of Your Name

This is another activity that I recommend in breakout rooms and small groups for the chance for smaller conversations and connections. I know this one isn't original and will direct folks to this resource for a more substantial dive.  I enjoy this because it can take some really interesting directions.

What to do:
  1. Let them know they will be put into Random breakout rooms and for how much time (again, 2-3 people for up to 10 minutes)
  2. Encourage them to introduce themselves first.
  3. Ask them to share the story of their name.
  4. Clarify that how they interpret that can be as expansive as they want.  
  5. If possible, demonstrate by sharing the story of your name, but explain that it is not the only way to do it and it may look differently for different people and cultures.
  6. I also like to add that if they don't have a specific story of their name then maybe another name that's in their immediate family--which can include pets.  
  7. Send them off to the Zoom rooms.
  8. Give them a heads up at the halfway mark.
  9. When you bring them back, invite people to reshare their name-stories.
  10. Here, I encourage you to ask people to share their own stories rather than having others share their stories.
  11. If you want others to share people's name stories, then explain that will be the expectation before the breakout room and to get permission.
Those are some of my favorite tips for community-building in Zoom and other video-conferencing spaces.  What about you?  Do you have ideas and suggestions?  If there's enough of them, I'd love to collect them into another blog post (with credit, of course!)

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