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Hybrid, In-Person, Virtual: What’s Right for You?

As organizations, employees and stakeholders are determining their new normal when it comes to meetings and engagement, how do you decide what meeting approach will provide the best outcome? By this point, we’ve all sat through enough horrendous attempts at hybrid or virtual meetings that had the best of intentions but felt more like a frustrating waste of time than an effective meeting.

Poor audio. Horrible video. Cheesy virtual backgrounds. Facilitators forgetting to engage virtual attendees. Multiple people in person talking over one another, leaving virtual participants listening to a garbled mess. Arbitrary, but stubborn, beliefs that one virtual platform is perfect for every event.

Our public affairs practice has planned and executed hundreds of successful meetings over the last two years. Hybrid, virtual and in-person meetings. We’ve learned that, while hybrid meetings pose many potential benefits, they require exceptional planning, effort and consideration to provide a positive experience for all.

From large-scale employee or public meetings to smaller and mid-sized committee, task force and leadership-team meetings, we’ve pulled together a few of the top considerations and recommendations we use to help ensure our clients select the right approaches, and the appropriate tools, to determine whether an in-person, virtual or hybrid meeting is best.

Is the primary goal of the meeting to inform or engage?

If you want to inform and educate a broad group of individuals, then an appropriately planned and executed hybrid event might work well. It allows everyone to participate via their preferred method. Just be sure to integrate enough interactivity for virtual participants to keep them engaged. And limit the duration of the meeting to 60-75 minutes, or else you’ll begin to lose virtual participants.

If you are looking for collaboration and engagement among participants, we typically advise clients to avoid hybrid meetings. Going all in-person or virtual – even if it means doing two meetings – creates a level playing field for participation and will let you better leverage the right engagement and facilitation techniques for the format.

What kind of input are you seeking?

Virtual meetings have exposed a broader audience to digital engagement tools for input gathering, ideation and collaboration. Rather than getting enamored with all that a digital tool can do, we advise clients to focus first on clarifying what they are looking for input. Using that as your starting point can lead you to the right new tools – if new tools are even needed – to achieve your desired outcomes.

If you’re seeking quantitative feedback, online tools like Miro, Ideaflip and Social Pinpoint are great for brainstorming ideas and crowdsourcing feedback. In many ways, they provide a digital version of the flip chart, oversized sticky-note and dot-preference exercises you would traditionally use in an in-person meeting. Integrating these digital tools into hybrid or in-person meetings can be a logistical and facilitation challenge. We encourage clients to proceed with great caution if they insist on doing it.

On the other hand, quantitative feedback is much easier to gather, regardless of your meeting type. But we encourage clients to think long and hard about equity when integrating crowd-sourced quantitative input. Tools like Mentimeter, ParticiPoll, Poll Everywhere, and even Zoom’s polling feature, are highly engaging ways that allow anyone with a computer or smartphone to respond to polling questions, regardless of whether your meeting is in-person, virtual or hybrid. But you risk missing out on feedback from participants who don’t have a computer, smartphone or reliable internet connection. That is why we are big fans of Broadnet Access Live – it provides equal opportunity for attendees to fully participate with just their telephone.

Are you providing sufficient resources (technology, facilitation and more) for success?

For hybrid meetings, we typically recommend using two or three facilitators. Too often, online participants in virtual meetings get forgotten by in-room facilitators, or they rabbit-hole into their own side conversations in chat. We recommend one in-room facilitator who is leading the meeting and one or two virtual facilitators to manage online chat and/or be the physical representation and voice of the online participants in the room.

For hybrid or virtual meetings, technology can make or break success. We insist on tech runs for every hybrid or virtual meetings – especially when presenters are presenting from their homes. This allows us to troubleshoot must-haves, such as audio quality, camera angles, and internet speed. It also provides a good opportunity to flag and resolve situations with distracting or unprofessional video backgrounds and work through logistical plans for managing Q&A, online participant chat (are you going to run the risk of allowing it, or are you only going to allow participants to chat with the meeting host?).

These tech runs also allow you to script-out and test strategies for creating visual variety for participants. We often do this by alternating among screen-shared slides, pre-produced video and spotlighted presenters. As you can imagine, creating more visual variety requires additional staff to play the role of video producer during the meeting.

A Final Thought

Done right, hybrid and virtual meetings pose immense opportunities for advancing innovation and equitable participation. Done wrong, they can actually exacerbate issues of equity in participation. By thoughtfully and strategically embracing the benefits of hybrid and virtual meetings, you are presented with an opportunity to evolve your engagement process and bring information to the eyes and ears of those who need it most. This is an evolution worth embracing.