I am convinced that going forward we will be organizing more online meetings as well as those that integrate both online and offline attendees.  Even though, as humans, we will still want to gather and meet each other in-person (and will periodically continue to do so), there are many advantages to incorporating virtual or hybrid meetings into our repertoire. They include: 1) Being able to include more people in the conversation; 2) Decreasing travel costs; and 3) Decreasing our carbon footprint.

I recently attended virtually a presentation on conducting hybrid meetings and how to best engage both groups. It was given by Patrick Coonan (Core Group, TOPS), Adam Schrecengost (KDAD) and Cydney Gumann (KDAD). They all work internationally and hence their tips came from a breadth of experience in different situations. During the session they modeled well how to integrate both those of us who were attending in person (at a venue in Washington, D.C.) as well as those of us who were attending virtually (from a variety of other locations). Here were some of the practical tips they shared:

Place equal focus on the experience for your online and offline participants – some ways to do this might include:

(1) Having designated facilitators for both the virtual and in-person attendees to ensure smooth interactions in each venue and interaction between them. For the online attendees, having someone to oversee content posts in the chat room and someone else to deal with technical challenges posted there can be very helpful.

(2) Alternate introductions and/or presenters between online and offline. Have facilitators who can help navigate these transitions.

(3) If you will be showing videos at the in-person venue, have a link ready for those online to watch the same video.

(4) If you are doing small group discussions at the in-person venue, engage your online participants in the same way (many online meeting software will allow for these type of small group exchanges).

(5) Take notes (or record) any additional question and answers with presenters in the in-person venue after the formal meeting is over, that you can later post online for everyone to have access to.

Research your connectivity capacities in advance

(1) Make sure to explore what the connectivity capacities are of the room you will be meeting in (for the in-person part of the meeting) so you have the best possibility of connecting your virtual attendees.

(2) Practice with your equipment in advance.

(3) If you are dealing with weak bandwith situations you can consider just connecting virtually via audio (and limiting the video).

Finally, the presenters (and those of us engaging with them during the session) underscored how we should assume and be prepared for things going wrong – technical glitches, unplanned for silences, and awkward transitions are all part of exploring these new ways of working together. Stay flexible and keep your sense of humor!

Any additional tips you may have to share re: your experiences with online or hybrid meetings?

Additional background resources

Videoconferencing options