The question on everyone’s mind these days is, “When will things get back to normal?” The answer is still quite unknown. The answer is very different for different people based on their present health and decisions about their future health. I’ve been a member of Toastmasters for many years. We have been doing our meetings on Zoom all the while. There are many benefits of learning this format, and working in a remote environment benefits two-fold for me. However, many of us want to return to speaking from a podium. Not to mention having the communal benefits that go with a group setting. Many of our members are not ready to return to a live meeting. Therefore, when we return, it will most definitely be in the form of a hybrid meeting. Some members will be on Zoom, and others will be there in person.
The best practices for a hybrid meeting are as follows:
- Assign someone to be a producer
- Utilize chat functionality
- Display the remote attendees to the in-person attendees
- Display the presentation area/screen to the remote attendees
- Ensure the audio is working properly.
- Test everything prior to the meeting
- Set ground rules
- Be inclusive to everyone
- Get feedback after the meeting for improvements
A successful hybrid meeting requires a bit more upfront planning. It requires a bit more management of the meeting (production) during the meeting. If you want to be successful at anything, you must get feedback. It requires more follow-up afterward to learn from your participants how to be more successful.
Assign a producer
In any meeting, there is a facilitation aspect to be successful. Typically in an in-person meeting, someone, hopefully, is assigned to set up the room for the meeting. This may be anything from refreshments to putting chairs and tables in place, erasing the whiteboard, etc. This can be the individual speaker or the host. Someone or many people must perform the tasks for a successful in-person meeting. When you have an online meeting, someone must set up the video or audio bridge. They may need to check people in as they sign in.
During the meeting, someone must perform the duty of a host. This may be the speaker, or for a larger meeting, it will be another person entirely. They will ensure the meeting runs on time. They must present the speaker(s) and act the part of a conductor to ensure a successful meeting.
With a hybrid meeting, another layer of complexity is added. Because of having two worlds that require facilitating during the meeting. This is called the producer. Not unlike a television producers, they must very actively set up and work with the technology for the meeting. They must ensure that these two separate worlds of online and in-person mesh together via moderation and inclusion.
Use the chat functionality.
Chat functionality can be your friend or your enemy. With a good producer/moderator, it is definitely one of the best tools for a successful meeting. Provide the ability for your online users to ask questions without getting stepped over by audio that may be delayed slightly. The in-person attendees will always have the ability to answer first. Their audio isn’t traveling ‘to and fro’ across a network in order to be heard. The chat functionality allows online attendees to ask questions and then have them read by a moderator or called upon. Also, online attendees can ‘whisper’ amongst themselves. I know it’s hard to believe, happens in every single in-person meeting ever held ever in the history of time. So being chatty is a great thing.
Display remote attendees to the in-person attendees
If you wish to produce a good hybrid meeting, it requires overcoming the hurdles of displacement. These challenges can be overcome by adding some additional tech tricks to the mix, so to speak. For starters, we want a screen that all the in-person attendees can see that shows all of the remote attendees. This allows a more personal touch and allows faces to be seen when they are talking.
Display the presentation area/screen to the remote attendees
So yes, if you’ve read the previous section with the title of this section, you might be wondering, do I need two cameras? The answer is most likely. To accomplish displaying everyone remotely by a camera pointed towards your crowd and then also show the presentation area, typically at the head of the room in the opposite direction, you likely not only need two cameras but to be signed in as two separate users on the remote meeting. One user account with a camera showing the crowd, and another user account with a camera showing the presentation area (podium/lectern). This takes a bit more setup and moderation during the meeting, so we do recommend having someone other than the host be the producer.
Ensure the audio is working properly
It can not be stressed enough the need for decent audio enough. If your cameras fail, ok; If you don’t use chat, fine; but if you’re audio is terrible, your meeting is terrible. It is just that simple, and this problem predates pandemics as well as this millennium. I vividly recall in the ’90s and early 2000s being on conference calls where someone put a phone in the middle of a table and had a meeting that I had no choice but to attend. When I tried to offer input, the noise cancellation on the phone would block me from hearing anyone that wasn’t five feet from the phone. This typically led to unintended arguments because I didn’t feel I was being heard.
Later I would be a manager, running conference calls with a phone in the middle of a conference room table, and when the audio would cut out or I would find myself perturbed by the folks on the phone not paying attention to what was being said. The truth was, they couldn’t hear us, and we couldn’t hear them. The result is poor communication – failed meetings.
With today’s tech, we can make a better meeting. a Bluetooth microphone at the podium, a condenser microphone in the crowd, and you have decent audio. There are still delays but the audio quality is drastically improved.
Test everything prior to the meeting
This may go without saying, but typically this is the one thing that gets skipped and makes a major difference in the success of a meeting. There is nothing more frustrating, especially in a business meeting, with multiple salaried people sitting idle as someone tries to figure out why camera one isn’t working. I always think of a pendulum on a clock swinging left to right and right to left – $100…$200…$300…$400…
Even if your attendees aren’t being paid, it might be stated that the message you are trying to produce via your meeting is being dampened by the lack of technical setup. Perhaps, you are trying to run a volunteer meeting where gaining membership or support is the key behind the meeting, and that desire is lessened by your prospects because it seems unprofessional. Or maybe it just is a pain in the butt that could have been avoided. In any case, always try, if possible, to do a dry run before the meeting to ensure the meeting’s success.
Set ground rules
You have two separate domains combined into one. On one side, there are the in-person attendees. They need to be aware of where the cameras and microphones are and not walk in front of the cameras or have idle chit-chat near the microphones. Online attendees need to mute their microphones except when speaking in order to reduce background interference. Some meeting producers insist on cameras being on to facilitate a more personal feel with their online attendees; others may require the camera to be off because it taxes the internet speed. In any case, you should find out what is best for you based on your crowd and the environment of the meeting.
Be inclusive to everyone.
A producer/moderator’s job during the meeting is to make absolutely sure everyone in the meeting feels they were included. This is to ensure they are heard (good audio), seen (camera tech), and included, perhaps via chat functionality. Take some time in the meeting to make the added effort it will pay great dividends.
One of the most overlooked items ever, and it is likely the most important item of all. Acquire feedback from the attendees on what they liked, disliked, what they thought could be better, etc. In order to improve anything, there must be a feedback loop to know what exactly can improve. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just take a poll or send an email out to find out how you did. Understand that not all feedback is good feedback, but all in all, you will have information to decipher how to improve your next meeting.