Interaction: hidden treasure on Zoom - well hidden!

In this final Deaf technophobe blog, Jane explores some of Zoom’s interactive tools – you know the ones everyone else seems to use, but which seem to be invisible on your system? 

Somebody's inviting me to a poll?

Somebody's inviting me to a poll?

The flat life

We have been required to work in 2-D for so long. The excitement of occasionally meeting a 3-D human is so great that I usually have to lie down for a while afterwards.

During the flat ‘year of 2-D’ with everyone appearing on our screen (if WiFi permitted), interaction has become prized. We have been swooshed mercilessly into breakouts, usually without knowing in advance who will be in ‘our’ group in a manner akin to Star Trek’s transporter. It’s not ‘life as we know it Captain’ but it’s been better than nothing.

As a deaf facilitator, such methods leave me in awe and also terror. At the press of a button, all your workshop participants disappear! It’s all a bit much, but it seems to (mostly) work. And how about the ultimate in snazzy group-think – the Zoom poll? In seconds everyone can say what they think, anonymously if you wish, and you can summon up a bar chart showing results. How fantastic is that?

And did you know that you can now call up an automated transcript of what everyone is saying? Me neither – until I heard (saw) it on the grapevine. This relatively un-heralded lurch forward in access and communication is not only a bonus for anyone with hearing loss, who uses English as a second language or who may want verbatim record of the discussion, its occasionally hilarious inaccuracies can serve to liven up otherwise dull discussions.

There are two main problems with these interactive tools:

We often don’t know they are available until we admire someone else using them. This makes it difficult to integrate them into our plans for workshops or events.

Even when we become aware of them, how to activate and control them can remain a mystery.

One general word of advice – if something doesn’t work as you expect don’t assume you did something wrong. It is much more likely that it (the system) assumed something, or had a pre-set of which you were simply unaware. Staying calm in the face of Zoom’s sometimes disconcerting behaviour will help you exude more confidence than you may feel!

What can catch you out?

Live transcript ‘CC’ button

 In order to get this option, you need to activate this in your Settings on Zoom.  It is towards the bottom of a very long list, so resist the temptation to give up, and keep scrolling – you will get there. Once activated, you should have this option appear automatically at the menu on the bottom of your screen.

It is worth knowing – and pointing out to your participants – that they have the option, using the ^ next to ‘CC’, to ‘hide subtitles’ individually. They can also ‘view full transcript’ which will appear in a separate window on their screen only.

This freedom of choice can be really useful, especially in longer meetings. All these options are available on the full range of Zoom accounts including the Basic one which is free of charge. 

Automated timing of breakout rooms

This one caught me out when I was facilitating a live event. Being a bit OCD with timings, I announced ‘You will have 12 minutes for this breakout’ but Zoom had other ideas!

You have Breakouts as an automatic option on all your calls. As with Closed Captions, you need to activate it in your Settings page. But you are not presented with pre-set information, such as the time limit on the rooms, until you ‘create breakouts’ i.e. ask Zoom to divide your meeting participants into groups, or assign participants yourself.

In theory, you, as host, always determine the length of the breakout rooms. You can leave the length open and manually choose to close the rooms, with a ‘broadcast message to all’ warning further in advance than the set 60 seconds if you wish. But it is worth checking the ‘Options’  in thebottom left of the window which appears only after your create your rooms – as this can be set at 10 minutes, I discovered!


This is only available if you have a licensed account. It’s a great tool – once you can access it. It is a pity that access can be elusive. I hope this advice helps.

First you will need to activate Polling this in your Settings.

Next, to add your Poll, you need to schedule your meeting. Once you have done this, you need to save your meeting details – using the big blue button at the bottom of the meeting page. This may involve a quick scroll, based on the principle that anything you need will never be at the top of a page. Don’t ask me why, but then, and only then, will you be offered the opportunity to add a poll. Right at the bottom of the page (of course) you will get a mildly bossy message that you ‘Have not added any polls yet’ with an option to create one.

You have to offer at least 2 answers per question on your poll. An engaging approach is to ask a question about people’s feelings about an issue, or simply at a particular moment in the meeting, and simply provide a scale (answers 1–5 or 1–10) for their responses. To do this, just one number in each answer box. This can be a good way to take the temperature of a difficult meeting too and provide a short reflective moment.

Note that you can click the option at the top of the poll to make replies anonymous.

I hope this short series of lessons from experience offers some useful insights. Patience, openness to surprise and willingness to use trial and error reap rewards in this brave new 2-D world. Think of Zoom and similar platforms as your slightly irascible but knowledgeable friend, from whom you have to extract information rather than it being proactively offered, and you won’t go far wrong. Ask it the right questions, by trying things out, and you may go further

If you have enjoyed this blog and want to make direct contact – I welcome this. And if the back story to being a deaf technophobe, public speaker and coach intrigues you – take a look here.

Good luck with your online adventures!


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