It was a muggy day as I prepped to deliver a global workshop on leadership for climate change-makers. I was focused on making sure the tech worked and how not to appear like I was melting on camera, even though I felt like I was.
The workshop started with another presenter. She did her section, and the group had responded well. Now it was my turn.
I was pumped. I was in my sweet spot of delivering engaging, online learning.
It wasn’t long into my section, and it happened.
I had opened the platform to allow participants to annotate (e.g. mark up) the screen. If you haven’t used annotations, give it a whirl. It’s fun and engaging.
Normally annotation is one way to make your online meetings and/or workshops more interactive.
I say normally. This time was a little different. Let me tell you the backstory why.
We had accepted registrations from around the world, which went through a university registration portal. There were some issues about data collection, so the decision was taken to make the online workshop link public.
That is, we publicly published the link to the workshop. One didn’t have to register to get on the call.
Back to my muggy self.
I’d just finished talking about gray thinking (as opposed to black and white / dichotomous thinking), and folks had finished annotating the screen where they lay on continuums when someone started annotating again.
Now I never assume that everyone is perfectly comfortable with online technology. So my first thought was, “Oh, someone is not aware that they are annotating the screen.”
Sounds reasonable, right? It had happened before, and several times I’ve had to reassure participants that no worries, no harm done.
Except this time was different.
As I was pausing for a second to see what was going on, the image started becoming clear. The veil was lifted.
Oh no! That’s not what I think it is, is it? Oh, dear. It is.
And there dear readers, in a global workshop, with participants from varied countries and cultures, sat a big fat hand-drawn p€nis. Yep. Tis true.
I confess, part of my brain was already writing this blog post. “Great!,” I thought, “this is a terrific learning opportunity.”
Then my mind and fingers kicked into gear as we worked to kick out the offender.
Meanwhile, though it truly was a GREAT learning experience.
Here’s what I learned from being Zoombombed.
1. Focus on yourself
- Keep your cool and keep calm. Do not show the offender that they’ve rattled you.
- Be firm. Be clear.
- Case in point: I said to the person, “James, it seems like you have a lot of energy to burn. I really hope you can find something to pour that energy into that makes a positive difference.”
2. Focus on removing anything offensive
- Quickly shut down the person’s ability to give any more offensive input.
- In this case, that meant kicking the person out of the workshop and erasing the image.
3. Focus on the participants
- Check the chat. I had several people direct messaging me, saying how offended they were.
- Speak to what happened. Do not ignore it.
- I addressed the large group, and I direct messaged those who had DM’d me to reassure them and let them know I had heard them and supported them.
4. Focus on your messaging
- Here’s the gold → turn the situation around in your favour. Turn it into a teachable moment if possible.
- In my case, I led an impromptu discussion explaining how we had made the call link public in an effort to be more inclusive and how that had some repercussions. We talked about the other end of the spectrum, which would be locking everything down and allowing no input or engagement (aka being simply talking heads).
- We discussed how, with community organizing, and effecting social change, it was a tricky balance. You want to encourage input and engagement from as many people as possible, AND sometimes that means you have some inappropriate input.
- Finally, I was careful to reassure everyone and check in before proceeding.
In the end, I was almost glad it happened. The hand-drawn p€nis spurred a great conversation about the continuum of access, inclusion, and engagement.
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I was pleasantly surprised how many people mentioned it in the workshop feedback as a positive learning experience.
So there you go. If you ever get Zoombombed, you’ll know what to do; focus on yourself and your reaction, focus on removing anything offensive asap, focus on taking care of the participants and finally focus on your messaging, and ideally turn it into a learning experience.
It really is true. Any moment can be a learning experience. For good or for bad.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead
- If you don’t know already, learn how to quickly shut off participant annotations and how to kick someone out of your meeting.
- Check out these various, funny Zoombombs. You have to admire the poise of the guy, who at 2:49 has a bird land on his head!
- The next time you’re teaching or presenting with more than one person, make sure they know how to do the same – how to quickly shut off annotations and kick someone off the call.
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