Making Hybrid Meetings Work – Anticipate and Prepare
Hybrid meetings are more complicated and more difficult to run. There are lots of pitfalls. But with advanced planning and preparation, hybrid meetings can be well run and efficient.
Hybrid meetings defined: Some participants are together in-person, other participants attend from different locations.
Some pitfalls of hybrid meetings:
- Can the people attending virtually hear people who are attending in-person, from a conference room?
- Are the people in the conference room ‘talking’ to each other with their eyes while the virtual attendees assume they’re ‘talking’ about them?
- Are people participating equally, regardless of their location (not unique to hybrid meetings)?
- Are people texting each other about their real thoughts versus saying them out loud (also not unique to hybrid meetings)?
- Did the facilitator provide hard copies of documents to in-person attendees and forget to send documents to virtual attendees?
The keys to running effective hybrid meetings – anticipate and practice before the meetings.
Do a dry run of a hybrid meeting before you run one. I run a practice session for all hybrid trainings I facilitate, even with repeat clients and multiple sessions with the same client. It’s not worth leaving anything to chance. Have two people in a conference room and another person attend virtually. Test the sound. Move around the conference room; sit in different locations. Can the virtual attendee see and hear, regardless of where in-person attendees are sitting?
Assess if you need an external camera and microphone. Getting these items set up may feel intimidating at first, but you only need to do it once. Once the technology is set up, it’s ready to use for future meetings.
Most conference rooms – even small ones – will need an external microphone so in-person participants can be heard by virtual participants. Trust me. I’ve learned this the hard way. The microphone in your laptop won’t pick up sufficient sound for virtual attendees to hear in-person attendees. You can buy a microphone for $30 at Best Buy or Amazon.
Plan how you will elicit balanced participation from attendees in all locations. Will you call on people? Consider sharing facilitation of different topics, so people in multiple locations lead different parts of the meeting.
Set expectations for participation when meetings start – using the chat and raise-of-hands feature, microphones on or muted, no distractions, and no messaging fellow participants offline. Don’t assume people know or will follow the guidelines from past meetings. Set expectations at the beginning of every meeting, even recurrent meetings.
When breaking people into groups during hybrid meetings, it’s tempting to put people in groups based on location, putting the in-person people together and the virtual people together. This practice exacerbates proximity bias (a topic for a future blog). While it’s harder to group in-person and virtual attendees together, it is more equitable.
Cameras on or cameras off? Discuss, decide, and tell participants in advance so virtual attendees are prepared.
Talk about the pitfalls of hybrid meetings with all attendees. Tell people to avoid ‘talking’ with their eyes to fellow in-person participants. Avoid having a camera capture the side of your face while you watch a different screen. Use the blur-your-background feature in Zoom if your background is distracting.
The key to leading effective hybrid meetings? Anticipate potential breakdowns. Prepare in advance. Communicate expectations with participants. Debrief meetings after they end. Make necessary changes. Repeat.