How do you execute a successful meeting when some participants are physically in the room and others are participating virtually? We drew on our experience planning hybrid meetings as well as the literature to compile the below tips to answer that question.
A hybrid meeting is one where some participants are gathered at the meeting venue and others are joining from individual or group remote locations.
The goal of a hybrid meeting facilitator is to foster an equitable and engaging meeting space where all participants can contribute to the activities and discussions to achieve the meeting’s objectives.
A few things to keep in mind:
Every hybrid meeting is different, and each will have its own distinct planning approach, resource and staffing needs, and design considerations.
The primary facilitator may be in the meeting venue or in a remote location.
The specific number of virtual participants may be unknown or shifting during the planning process.
What a hybrid meeting looks like depends on the level of technology used.
Designing your Hybrid Meeting
Use hybrid tools and activities, don’t just merge virtual and in-person approaches.
Use activities and collaboration tools that allow virtual and in-person participants to effectively engage and to achieve the same objectives (e.g., set prompts on a shared document to brainstorm collectively, use small group breakouts so everyone has a chance to participate).
Use audio-visual tools and accessibility features as needed to foster a common understanding (e.g., captioning, sign language interpreters, translation).
Have a backup plan if technology fails or partially fails (e.g., call-in information, points of contacts, back-up facilitation).
Staff the meeting based on the meeting objectives and complexity.
Determine the objectives, the group size and locations, the resource needs, and the roles.
Select a facilitator to guide an equitable, timely, and effective meeting.
Identify IT staff to set up or fix issues with the technology (e.g., cameras, microphones/audio).
Assign a producer to manage the virtual space to ensure equal engagement across participants.
Consider additional producers and/or facilitators depending on the complexity of the meeting.
Never underestimate the power of the producer.
Select production staff to handle participant technical issues.
Assign a producer to facilitate engagement, to manage breakout rooms, and to support the use of engagement tools (e.g., virtual flipcharts, polls).
Establish back-channel communication for organizers, facilitators, and producers to connect during the event without disturbing the flow of the meeting (e.g., chat, text).
Set your participants up for success.
Ensure participants have access to the virtual platform. Learn how they will join the meeting (e.g., smartphone or laptop) and if there is anything preventing access to the tools (e.g., firewalls, necessary software updates).
Offer technology training on virtual tools prior to the meeting.
Ask participants to join the meeting early to triage connection issues and to explore the technology. During this time, start special functions (e.g., translation, transcription, and captioning).
If there are people joining from a remotely connected conference room, confirm that the technology accommodates this (e.g., projector and screens, ample microphones). It may be preferable for each virtual participant to engage from an individual laptop or mobile device.
Optimizing Your Technology
Test, prepare, and test again.
Assess the bandwidth of the meeting facility and the capacity of the virtual participants to engage reliably and effectively.
Test the virtual platform and engagement tools and technology (especially audio features) prior to the event.
Consider offering internet boosters, individual laptops, or alternate locations with more stable internet connection if virtual participants are connecting from low-bandwidth locations.
Use microphones to amplify sound.
Optimize the sound for virtual participants by positioning microphones near in-person speakers.
Create an immersive experience for your virtual participants.
Use multiple laptops and projector screens to maximize visual engagement (e.g., one screen with slides and in-room participants and presenters, and another screen with virtual participants and presenters).
Ensure you’re considering participants with special needs by using tools such as captioning, translation, and transcription services to increase comprehension and engagement.
For a complex meeting, consider using more advanced technology or hiring event services.
Use webcams and 360 cameras so virtual participants can see what is happening at the venue more clearly.
Use QR codes for your in-person participants to easily access online tools (polls, Jamboards, etc.) that you’re sharing with your virtual participants through chat.
Represent virtual participants in the in-person venue (e.g., virtual presence with laptops, projector screens, etc.).
Host a gallery walk, world café, or other station-based session by using a handheld live-streaming video camera or laptop allowing virtual participants to “visit.”
Capture the plenary conversation with a video streaming company.
Record the meeting and share meeting notes, products, action items, and agreements made.
Record the meeting to ensure equal access to information and share any outputs for those unable to attend or who had connectivity issues.