Here in Geneva it is “la rentrée” – meaning back to school or back to work after the summer break.

For some it will be the first time they are back in the office after many months, while for others they may still be working from home.

This means that hybrid meetings are “de rigueur” (order of the day) with some people meeting in person and others joining remotely.

Hybrid meetings should combine the best of both worlds, but the challenge is to make them inclusive and seamless.

Below are some tips and techniques for setting up and facilitating a hybrid meeting, based on my experience as conference moderator and conversations with organisers and technical suppliers.

Getting the equipment right

The higher the stakes, the higher the production values. A hybrid team meeting does not require the same level of equipment and resources as a town hall or stakeholder meeting. You may for example want to book a professional studio for a more important meeting, rather than set up a studio in your office. However, whatever the status of the meeting, you need to ensure that the online and in-person audience – the “Zoomies” and the “Roomies” – can see and hear each other.

Audio equipment – The “Zoomies” join on their laptops or mobile devices that have inbuilt microphones, speakers and cameras, allowing the “Roomies” to see and hear them. Where it gets complex is ensuring the “Zoomies” hear the “Roomies”. “Roomies” need either dedicated microphones for each participant or another option is ceiling microphones which can pick up sound over a certain amount of space. I am no specialist on this, but I highly recommend you contact companies that install videoconferencing systems to ensure a proper set up. I know of one organisation that held a hybrid meeting where the echo from the “Roomies” audio made the whole experience a waste of time and resources.

Visual equipment – You need a screen so that the “Roomies” can see the “Zoomies”.

In the room you also need a camera or camera(s), depending on the production values, focused on the entire room as well as the person who is speaking. These cameras are often automated and can zoom in and out on individuals speaking. This image is then relayed back to the online participants through a Zoom link (if that is the software you are using). More complex meetings require more cameras and a technical director who switches between cameras in the room.

Facilitating a hybrid meeting

You need to be a better facilitator as both audiences need to feel included and have a sense of connection with the other participants. Here are seven top tips:

1. Explain the technical set up of the meeting at the beginning so everyone knows where the cameras and microphones are in the meeting room.
2. Prepare for technical glitches so the “Zoomies” know what to do if they lose audio or visual connectivity.
3. Set the rules of engagement so the “Roomies” and the “Zoomies” – know how and when to interact with each other. Whispered conversations in the room, for example, can easily be picked up by the overhead microphone.
4. Build a sense of inclusion so that both audiences have the same level of experience. It is easy for the “Roomies” to forget the “Zoomies” so the facilitator has to make a concerted effort to engage them. You could, for example, give the floor to them or ask them the first question.
5. Engage as one audience. Set the same task for both audiences, for example, raise your hand, or answer the poll. Although they may respond differently, clicking on a digital link online or answering on their phone in the room.
6. Use digital tools for both audiences to ensure coherence of content. Ditch the in the room flip charts and whiteboards as digital tools such as Google Jamboard, Padlet, Easy Retro, Mural and Miro are easier to read and allow participants to upload and share material easily.
7. Have a dedicated facilitator for the “Zoomies” and for the “Roomies” to ensure both groups get equal attention. They can handover to each other so that one leads a section of the meeting and then the other or they can work in tandem so that one supports the other during a section, for example when taking participant questions.

Hybrid meetings require more technical resources, planning and a skilled facilitator. Are they worth the investment? Do let me know your thoughts.

Over the next few weeks, I shall be moderating a number of hybrid events with and without an audience. In my next blog I shall share my tips and techniques based on my lessons learnt.