As travel bans start to dictate whether or not attendees can join meetings, it’s imperative to create effective hybrid events.
The bottom line: Do whatever you can to ensure a level playing field. By that, I mean make sure that everyone, no matter where they are participating from, feels like they’re all sitting at the same table. Here are five tips to planning a successful hybrid event.
Use Sufficient Technology Tools
When you consider what technology tools to use (whether it’s phone, videoconferencing, virtual meeting tool, etc.), make sure that all participants have equal access. This means that everyone must have sufficient bandwidth, the right systems configuration including necessary downloads, confidence in using the chosen tools, and accurate dial-in and log-on information. Having a technical support person both for set-up and during the meeting provides a crucial safety net, both for you and participants. In your meeting prep package, make sure to include test links and pointers to available training. Have people join the meeting at least 10 minutes prior to the official start time to ensure that any glitches can be worked out ahead of time.
Get the Audio Right
Above all, get the audio right. This means that people in the room must be clearly audible by remote participants, regardless of where they’re sitting. Make sure you have a good-quality speakerphone with satellite speakers, especially if you have a large room and big crowd. Test the sound periodically throughout the meeting. You may need to ask someone closest to the speakerphone to repeat a question or comment. Ask the people in the room to refrain from eating, shuffling papers or anything else that may generate unwelcome noise through the speakers. Unless there’s ambient noise in the room, avoiding putting your speakerphone on mute, which has a way of making remote participants feel even more alienated.
Make Remote Participants Prominent
Keep remote participants in your mind’s eye. You can accomplish this several ways. If you use videoconferencing (which I highly suggest), you can project a screen showing virtual participants in a prominent place somewhere in the room. (Likewise, you will want to have a camera in the room so remote participants can see what’s going on.) Make it a habit to call on remote participants first. Check frequently to make sure everyone can follow the conversation. Describe what’s going on in the room for people who can’t see. For example: “The reason we all just laughed is that John rolled his eyes at Mary’s comment.” Or, “Linda just drew a picture of two intersecting circles to make her point.” Establish a backchannel communication (via instant messaging, text or social media) so someone in the room can get feedback from remote folks and adjust as needed along the way.
Factor in Time Zones
Be sensitive about time zone differences, especially if you need remote participants to attend for several hours at a time. This is especially true if you’re using videoconferencing and remote participants must join the meetings late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.
Define Remote Participation Expectations
I suggest that meeting planners design their agendas so that remote participants join the meeting only when their presence is really critical. It takes a lot of energy from those in the room, as well as those on the phone, to constantly make sure that everyone can hear, ask questions, weigh in, etc. There are a few ways to do this. You might seek input from remote participants in advance that can be shared by someone in the room during the meeting. You can also carve out particular times where remote participation is required and make other times optional, giving people a choice as to whether they want to stay. Depending on your meeting goals, you might try having remote participants form their own breakout groups if those in the room are breaking into small groups. Time zones permitting, I always like to make sure that remote participants are present for the summary, conclusions and actions, when applicable.