Your next online meeting is about to start, you click on the link, and find yourself with ten other colleagues in a Google Meet call. So far so good, but oh, there’s Mike and you tried chasing him for days to get his answer on a sensitive topic but somehow couldn’t get hold of him. If only there was a way to quickly discuss the matter without the rest of the team overhearing your conversation…
Or just imagine, you join an online event and suddenly face yourself with 50 other human beings in a Zoom call, most of whom you don’t know, and you would want to say something to participate in the conversation, but…in front of everyone else?? Better stay silent and just listen in…
Whether being too shy to speak in front of a bunch of strangers in a video call or missing the opportunity for private one-on-ones, video conferencing tools like Zoom & Co. often force attendees in a position that withholds them from networking efficiently. While at in-person networking events attendees can go and network according to their comfort levels, virtual networking calls may not be suitable for everyone and result in boring, useless, or even scary event experiences.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that as long as in-person events are not allowed or possible these people will just have to live with terrible virtual networking calls. There is a solution, and it’s called Proximity Chats!
What are proximity chat tools?
In a nutshell, proximity chats are tools that create a virtual environment where attendees can move freely between conversations. As the name already implies, by getting closer to another attendee’s avatar, conversations start upon close proximity. While at Zoom calls you are immediately in one video call with everyone, in proximity chat tools you have to actively move your avatar to get closer to others and start or join conversations. And don’t get mixed up on the word ‘chat’, these tools are not limited to written chat but rather offer video chats just like other video conferencing software. The main difference is really in not being one video call for all but individual conversations for different groups, all held in the same virtual space.
There are a lot of proximity chat providers with different terms and setups, from free to paid options with different features and for different purposes. The one I’m focusing on in this article is Wonder.
Choose to enter and leave conversation when you want to
The main problem I saw in most virtual networking calls that were supposed to replace the in-person gatherings was the lack of freedom. You were either in the video call, or you were out. Either everyone hears what you say, or nobody (or you write it in the private chat to a person). There was nothing in between. At some digital networking events you may have been ‘forced’ into breakout rooms during the event but again, nobody asked me which breakout room I wanted to enter and whether I wanted to talk to the people in there. Proximity chats provide exactly this.
At Wonder you are placed inside a virtual room – which you can also design to your liking to create the atmosphere you want to have at your networking – and can then move your avatar around freely. What makes networking so pleasant and us missing it especially in times of these is the social interaction. Wonder allows for more social interaction instead of being part of a big meeting which may also become boring quite fast if the current topic doesn’t interest you. Take back control of your event experience and choose the conversations you want to listen to!
Proximity chats allow you to talk to who YOU want
By choosing and picking conversation you want to join or creating new ones yourself with your colleagues, friends, or like-minded strangers at large virtual networking events, you are in charge of what you hear and participate in. As a host, allow your audience to attend whichever conversations is interesting for them and you will automatically bring back the fun in virtual networking; no-shows will reduce and active participation will go up significantly. The important thing is to make the networking beneficial for them.
Wonder is designed for having conversations in smaller groups. In so-called circles, up to 15 attendees can talk via video chat. At this point, it is important to mention that (as of Feb 2021) there is no option to have all participants in one conversation on this platform. However, there is a broadcast function which allows the host or organizer to make announcements or hold a panel discussion with up to six people that will be heard by everyone in the virtual room. During this time, individual conversations are blocked, so attendees are ‘forced’ to listen to the broadcast (or mute it otherwise) and cannot speak to others unless they use the written chat.
Whether you want your team to work in smaller groups and exchange in different circles or ‘step aside’ the group conversation to have a quick chat with a colleague or prospective client, in proximity chat tools like Wonder you have the freedom to switch conversations easily within seconds without having to leave the entire call and joining back in. For sensitive topics or private talks you may even set your circle to private which avoids that others can join your circle. Even when attendees may have to answer the phone or attend some other tasks during the meeting, there is no need to leave the virtual space and log back in. Mute your mic and turn of your video, move into a corner of the virtual room and away from the ‘action’ until you are ready to join the conversation again.
Bring back the fun to virtual networking with individuality and games
One way to support effective virtual networking in proximity chats is the option to create theme areas or sub-rooms which make it easier for like-minded people to find each other and discuss topics of shared interest. Instead of having the entire company join for the after-work social and listen to everyone’s comments, splitting the group into smaller circles or one-on-ones allows the employees to talk about whatever they want with whoever they want. This creates a much more relaxed and natural atmosphere.
Some of them want to discuss latest football results? Move over to the football area. Others are eager to share their cooking experiences? Head over to the kitchen area. Name the virtual areas according to whatever fits your networking purpose and helps the attendees exchange to topics of their liking.
These areas can also be used for fun activities such as games, speed-dating, etc. The attendees are able to watch the movements of the others without listening in on their conversations. This gives them an indication of where popular conversations or fun activities are happening, just as at in-person events. It represents the game of exclusivity and inclusion; either you are part of a circle conversation or you virtually ‘grab’ the new friend you made at this virtual party and step aside for a private (locked) conversation, or call a third person to join the talk. It is exciting, it is fun, it is up to you (again)!
This has really just been an explanation in a nutshell of what proximity chats like Wonder can offer. Feel free to contact me and let’s meet in Wonder directly to let me show you more.
Give it a try yourself today and hold your next meeting in Wonder & Co. to make virtual networking fun again!
Have a self-determined day!