Meetings have always been challenging but this has been exacerbated during the pandemic as more companies switched to remote working. As we begin to emerge from the other side of the pandemic, hybrid events and meetings are fast becoming the norm, but how do we do them effectively, and how do we make sure everyone has their voice heard? This blog looks at the pros and cons of hybrid meeting solutions and how we can use them to improve our communication and collaboration.
Pros of hybrid meetings
Enable people to work from home
Can improve communication and collaboration
Can be more productive than traditional meetings
Cons of hybrid meetings
People can feel isolated if you don’t get it right
Technology can fail and cause frustration
Require more planning and coordination
How to plan a successful hybrid meeting
Hybrid meeting solutions are the new way to stay connected and productive, but they can be hard to pull off. You need the right tech, a suitable space, and the right people in one place at one time – it doesn’t always happen! It’s essential to plan them well; otherwise, they can be a massive waste of time.
Communication in a hybrid zoom meeting is not as smooth and efficient as it is in conventional face-to-face meetings. To help with this, you’ll need to allow additional meeting time and cover less material. Simple is best when it comes to hybrid!
Another way to host effective hybrid meetings is to send the agenda and slides in advance along with as much pre-reading as you can. This way, attendees will be prepared with their feedback, questions, or concerns at the start of the meeting.
Here are four more tips for planning hybrid meetings and events to help everyone stay focused and productive.
1 – DO YOU NEED TO HAVE A MEETING?
Often meetings happen out of habit. But is a hybrid meeting, the best use of everyone’s time? As we’ll discuss in the following paragraphs, a hybrid meeting will take more planning than a standard face-to-face or virtual one, so consider what the meeting is for and what you want to achieve.
A hybrid meeting is a synchronous way of communicating and works well for active discussions and real-time decision making. They are trickier for companies operating across different time zones and can make it hard for everyone to stay focused. Might an asynchronous approach work better? There is much value in interacting with people without the need for real-time conversation. We can do this through email, instant messaging and cloud collaboration technology (Teams, Slack etc). Stanford’s recent study showed that remote, asynchronous workers were 13% more productive than their synchronous office-based colleagues. We spoke about this with Dr Nicola Millard in a recent podcast about hybrid working. Listen to the full chat here.
If you’re after real-time collaboration and decision making for your team with a mixture of in-office and remote workers, then hybrid will likely be the right decision. If so, the first step is to let everyone know it’s hybrid! We can tell many stories of people turning up to a meeting and not realising it was hybrid meeting, including the main speaker. Confused and frustrated attendees don’t make for great interaction. If you have the option of colour coding diary entries, you can adopt that approach, so it’s immediately apparent.
2 – MODERATORS
Next on the list – assign moderators. Ideally, you need one moderator for the main room and another for those joining virtually. Suppose you have multiple groups in different locations. Ask each group to have a moderator too and agree on this ahead of time. Hybrid meeting moderators are the keepers of order. Keeping everyone focused on track and ensuring that every voice is heard, they’re a cross between a conductor and a chaperone! They’re also the first point of contact if people have any hybrid meeting technology related communication issues. So, make sure they know what to do and how to troubleshoot problems!
Moderators need some preparation too. They should come into the meeting with an idea of what they want to achieve and how they will keep everyone on track. They also need to be comfortable with technology. We’ll delve into the technology a little later, but for now, let’s focus on what else you need to plan a successful hybrid meeting.
3 – PREPARATION
A hybrid agenda will be essential; send it with the meeting invite. This will enhance transparency, although be wary of making agendas too long as they can become overwhelming quickly in the hybrid conference. One participant may start reading ahead while another disengages, which isn’t ideal. Keep it simple and try and stick to three key areas to talk about; it makes it easier for everyone to remember.
Share any materials or presentations ahead of time. It’s good etiquette in meetings regardless, making them more inclusive and accessible to everyone. Before the meeting, use collaborative cloud technologies like Teams to start a discussion and obtain feedback.
4 – MEETING AREAS
If you want to host effective hybrid meetings, consider the meeting areas available. Your team will be spread across several locations and possibly around the globe. Who will be the main moderators? Are they remote or in the office? Think about the space you’re using too. Is it quiet with no distractions? If a number of you are gathering face-to-face, an open-plan office will unlikely work for a hybrid meeting.
Many businesses now have Teams, or Zoom enabled rooms with high-quality cameras and microphones. If you’re not fortunate enough to have one of these hybrid meeting technology options, you’re not out of luck, but this will require some careful thought about the technology you will use and what is available to each attendee. More on this next!
Perfecting the technology: tools, tricks and tips
We can’t have a hybrid meeting without good technology. It’s crucial that everyone can see and hear each other. This is where hybrid meetings can fail. If one person can’t see or hear the other, it breaks the flow of conversation and defeats the object of having a meeting in the first place!
There are a few things to think about when it comes to perfecting your hybrid meeting technology. For starters, how do you ensure remote attendees have an equal experience as those in the office? You need to make sure everyone can see and hear each other, but this is easier said than done.
Let’s consider this from two perspectives.
The hybrid meeting technology needs to be clear and crisp. You’ll want a high-quality camera so you don’t miss any facial expressions or body language, which can often give away the emotions behind what someone says. Or even better – two cameras! This way, you can have one camera focused on the wide shot of the room and another which zooms into the person speaking. Most Teams or Zoom enabled rooms will have this technology along with a large screen to view the remote delegates.
As mentioned above, it is possible to have a face-to-face group join hybrid events or meetings without a dedicated Teams or Zoom room, but it does take some thought.
You can use a webcam attached to your computer and link this to a laptop. You could position a few different laptops around the room at a push, so you have wide and close-up shots of the team, although be aware of audio! If you’re going for this option, use one microphone and one set of speakers to avoid screeching feedback.
There are also some excellent portable conference room cameras available that can work well if your office doesn’t have a Teams or Zoom-enabled room. Companies like Owl Labs combine a 360-degree camera, microphone, and speaker into one easy-to-use gadget. It allows hybrid teams to feel like they’re participating in person while also connecting seamlessly with the conference platforms you already use.
The hybrid meeting technology for virtual attendees is a lot easier because we’re used to using it! Your built-in laptop camera or separate webcam will be fine, although you can buy some very fancy cameras if you want to up your game. Make sure you have good lighting and adjust the camera frame so everyone can see you clearly and you come across with confidence and impact.
You’ll also want excellent audio – consider using a separate microphone as they tend to be better than built-in computer speakers (or even worse; tinny laptop ones!). We recommend a lavalier mic (or clip mic), which reduces room echo and provides a crisper sound than Bluetooth or cable headphones.
If people are joining remotely, make sure they have a good internet connection – audio or video problems are a common issue with a hybrid meeting.
In or out of vision?
A common debate is whether virtual meetings require video; there’s much exciting academic research going on right now around whether audio-only communication is as effective as video. The truth is these meetings can work without it, but there will always be an element of hesitation from participants who feel uncomfortable with not seeing each other in real-time.
If your hybrid meeting includes people in the office, we recommend using video to create a more natural conversation. This is especially true if you’re discussing something sensitive or personal. Seeing each other also makes it easier for remote attendees to follow the discussion and ask questions.
On the other hand, if your hybrid meeting only has virtual attendees, then dropping video may work better, especially if you’re discussing complex or data-heavy ideas. Research has shown that these activities may be more beneficial in an audio-only environment.
Even if your hybrid meeting uses video and some remote attendees are uncomfortable speaking on camera, then it’s worth allowing them to present their ideas via audio-only. This way, they still feel included, which builds confidence and reduces anxiety!
Agree on video etiquette ahead of the meeting.
The most effective hybrid meetings provide participants with the opportunity to interact and share information as if they were all in the same space. A single big screen or a dual-screen setup is a popular solution. Both alternatives (particularly the latter) allow in-office participants to view everyone else in the meeting, as well as the shared content.
If you are the person sharing your slides in the conference room, think about how the remote delegates will view them. Teams and Zoom enabled rooms will deal with this automatically, but if you don’t have access to these, you’ll need to experiment with the tech and space available to you.
One approach in this situation is to connect your laptop to the room screen and the virtual platform you’re using. Turn your laptop camera off and use another computer in the room to connect to whichever webcam you’re planning to use. This way, the remote delegates have a clear view of your slides and a separate video feed. It makes sense to not stand by the slide deck as you would in a traditional face-to-face meeting, so they don’t get a double view.
Now that we’ve got the tech sorted let’s look at engagement and inclusion.
Making hybrid meetings more inclusive
One of the best things about hybrid meetings is that they can be more inclusive than in-person meetings. People from all over the world can join, and there are no physical boundaries. However, hybrid meetings can also be more exclusive than in-person meetings if we take the wrong approach. For example, if the focus is on the team in the office, those working remotely may feel left out.
We’ve all been in meetings where the person with the most to say takes over. When one point of view dominates, it’s easy for other attendees to withdraw, and the whole meeting suffers as a result. When remote workers have limited participation in a hybrid meeting because they are sitting at home, they automatically feel excluded.
We can also exclude remote participants by continuing with traditional meeting practices. Sharing ideas on a physical whiteboard or passing around a plate of biscuits might inadvertently create an atmosphere of inequality.
Finally, no one is shocked by the fact that technical difficulties can kill a meeting before it’s even begun; typically, it’s the remote participants who are affected.
Here are eight ways to make meetings more inclusive:
Improving the experience for remote attendees
It’s easy for remote attendees to feel left out of a hybrid meeting. Conversations are happening in the room that don’t involve them. They can’t see everyone’s facial expressions, and they can’t hear all the nuances in conversation.
You can do many things to improve their experience and make them feel more connected to everyone in the meeting.
One way is to ensure you make all content available ahead of time. It could be in the form of an agenda, talking points or slides – whatever will help remote participants get up to speed quickly. If there’s no pre-made material, then take care when sharing documents during the meeting as it can be difficult for remote attendees to follow what’s happening on screen. The earlier section around screen-sharing will be helpful here.
Another way to support remote attendees is by using technology that allows them to interact with other participants. Live chat tools are great for this as they allow people to ask questions and offer comments without interrupting. Although, you need to make sure the same tech is available to those joining in person.
Try not to talk over each other – give everyone a chance to share their thoughts and feelings. Remote attendees typically struggle with this more than in-person participants, so be conscious of your tone and how much you’re talking.
If there’s much discussion happening in the room, make sure you summarise the conversation at the end of each segment to ensure remote attendees are up to speed.
Be aware of your body language. Use expansive gestures if you’re in the conference room and the camera doesn’t get close enough to you. For example, if you’re asking a question, use a clear ‘palms up’ gesture to show your intent.
Don’t forget about socialising!
Hybrid meetings lack the human interaction that comes with in-person meetings, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Make sure you provide plenty of opportunities for people to socialise and get to know each other – even if it’s just sharing what you did over the weekend via the chat function or using break-out rooms to enable smaller group chats. It helps build relationships which can only improve future hybrid and virtual meetings.
Improving the experience for in-person attendees
In-office participants will always feel more connected during hybrid meetings because of the natural socialisation opportunities. However, there are things you can do to improve their experience too.
In-person attendees will appreciate it if remote participants are visible and audible. If those joining remotely don’t have their cameras on, it’s almost the equivalent of someone being in the room and talking with their back to you! Similarly, make sure everyone has an excellent audio connection. Background noise or poor audio quality can be distracting for in-person attendees.
Agree on meeting etiquette beforehand. For example, if people will be typing during the meeting, make sure everyone knows and is comfortable with this. It can feel disruptive if someone starts typing when you’re trying to listen to a presenter.
Facilitate the conversation. This means ensuring that everyone has a chance to speak and that no one person dominates the discussion.
Setting hybrid meeting’ house rules’
Creating and following some ‘house rules’ is essential etiquette for meetings.
Some key points to remember:
Hybrid meetings work best when they start and end on time.
No side conversations – these can be disruptive and frustrating for remote attendees.
If you’re joining remotely, keep your microphone muted when others speak.
Come prepared with ideas and thoughts – hybrid events or meetings are an excellent opportunity for everyone to share their ideas, so make sure you come ready to contribute.
Be aware of your body language – it’s just as important as what you say during these meetings — more on this towards the end of this blog.
Test the hybrid meeting technology beforehand to ensure everything is working and spot any potential problems (e.g., if there’s no projector available or the internet connection goes down) so you can be prepared and resolve them before the meeting starts.
Be patient – can take time to get used to, but they can be an incredibly powerful way to collaborate and get things done with a bit of practice.
Now that we’ve gone over some of the critical points you need to remember when planning and hosting effective hybrid meetings, let’s move on to how you can improve the overall experience for everyone involved.
How to maximise collaboration in hybrid meetings
There are some easy things you can do to make sure everyone in the meeting is collaborating effectively:
Encourage people to share their ideas – hybrid meetings are the perfect opportunity to discuss thoughts and ideas, so make sure you encourage everyone to contribute. This makes the meeting more productive and encourages people to be more open.
Don’t put pressure on individuals or specific departments – these meetings are about collaboration with everyone working together, so don’t make it about one person (or department) and their ideas. This can cause much frustration among remote attendees because they won’t feel listened to. Instead, make these meetings about the collective group – this helps people get involved in the meeting more often because it won’t feel like they’re a spectator.
Use break-out rooms to your advantage – hybrid meetings can be chaotic, so using break-out rooms can help to improve the overall experience for everyone involved. It allows people to have more focused discussions and develop better ideas.
Make sure remote attendees have everything they need – hybrid meetings are frustrating if they feel left out or are not part of the discussion. Provide them with all the tools and resources they need to ensure their experience is as good as possible.
Encourage people to use video – hybrid meetings are the perfect opportunity for people to get to know each other better. Asking all attendees to use video will help with this, as it’ll give everyone a chance to see each other’s faces and build better relationships.
Use different tools to maximise collaboration. Sharing slides via Menti means everyone can interact with your visual aids via smartphones or tablets. Use an online whiteboard such as Miro or Stormboard to encourage everyone to share ideas.
The art of facilitation
Facilitating meetings can be challenging, but it’s also rewarding. The key is to make sure everyone in the hybrid meeting feels included and their ideas are heard. Here are a few tips for becoming an effective facilitator:
Make sure you know the agenda – this may sound like common sense, but you wouldn’t believe how many hybrid meetings I attended where the facilitator didn’t know what they would be discussing in each break-out room. It made it harder for them to keep things on track and led to some frustrating situations.
Facilitate discussions effectively – hybrid meetings can quickly spiral off track if the facilitator doesn’t know how to keep things under control. Make sure you encourage everyone to share their ideas but be firm with those who want to take over the conversation. Be calm and show empathy where needed. You’ve probably been in a situation when your mind begins to race as a conversation gets more heated. Don’t be tempted to go down that route; be the voice of reason. The key is to slow down the rate at which you speak – slower and more deliberate -, use deeper vocal tones, keep gestures firm, and measured while maintaining good eye contact.
Be aware of your body language – as the facilitator, you need to be mindful of your body language. If you appear confident, the audience is more likely to listen to you. Use your gestures to guide the conversation. Turn your palm up to invite someone to speak, turn your palm down when they’ve finished and invite the next person with a palms up gesture. It’s like directing traffic!
Make remote attendees feel included –̶Collaboration and participation is key, but this only works if everyone feels included. Make sure that remote attendees have everything they need to feel like a part of the meeting, whether it’s good microphones or clear instructions on how to join meetings.
Be mindful of your decisions – when you’re facilitating, people will naturally look towards you for guidance and decisions. Make sure you take your time before making any rash decisions, and always make sure that everyone has had a chance to share their thoughts first.
How to communicate with impact and gravitas
We’ve seen many excellent business presenters lose their impact and confidence during the pandemic. They knew what they were doing in a face-to-face environment, but everything they knew went out the window when placed in front of a camera. They didn’t look at the camera, spoke too quickly and without emotion, and crammed their slides with text.
If you’ve found yourself in this position, or if you simply want to improve your virtual or hybrid presenting skills, here are a few tips:
Lessons in body language
We’re all learning new ways to communicate with each other since the pandemic began. With so many people now working remotely, we’ve had to find new ways to connect and share information. And as it turns out, anyone can apply the lessons we’re learning about body language in hybrid meetings too.
When we’re physically present with someone, our body language can help us build trust and rapport. We might lean towards the other person, make eye contact, or use open body language. But when we’re not able to do these things – for example, when we’re presenting remotely – there are still ways we can connect with our audience.
First, take up more room. We shrink ourselves when we are nervous or uncomfortable, perhaps hoping that no one will notice us! We may slouch, avert our eyes, and minimise movements. You can make yourself look and feel more secure by taking up more physical space.
Raise your chest and sternum, and if you’re not sitting, stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Avoid unnecessary movement and fidgeting; these can distract your audience from what you’re saying.
Use a wide range of gestures. When communicating vital information, consider a palms-down gesture. To be more open, or ask a question, then turn your palms up. The most important thing to remember is to be congruent. Make sure your body language, tone of voice, and message convey the same thing. Don’t say one thing and do another!
Eye contact has always been a vital part of communication; it’s the difference between having a conversation instead of listening to a boring presentation. But how do you make strong eye contact in a hybrid environment? The most common mistake people make when attending in person is to look at the screen to talk to the remote delegates. If you think about it, though, this means the remote delegates never get any proper eye contact! If you’re in the conference room, make eye contact with those next to you AND the camera. It will take some practice, but your remote colleagues will thank you for it. From the other perspective, if you’re joining remotely, you also need to talk to the camera and not to your slides or second screen. One of the most common frustrations in hybrid meetings is a lack of eye contact.
We hope this blog has been helpful. When it comes to hosting effective hybrid meetings, we all have a lot to learn. By following these simple tips, you’ll be able to create a more engaging and successful hybrid environment – no matter where your colleagues are. The bottom line is that these kinds of meetings are a new and evolving format, and we’re all learning as we go. The most important thing is staying positive, being clear and concise, and focusing on the outcome you want to achieve. Perhaps the final thing to say is to have fun! Hybrid meetings can be a great way to connect with colleagues and achieve outcomes you never thought possible. Let’s work together to make the best of this new way of working. Good luck!
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