Leading a hybrid meeting is not the easiest task. Doing so effectively requires additional planning and considerations beyond the basics of camera and background setup and keeping to an agenda. Here are key strategies and tips to ensure you deliver an experience that’s positive, engaging and inclusive for all attendees, wherever they (and you) are participating from.
As the meeting host, how you kick things off sets the tone for the entire experience, so stay positive and focus on leading an engaging and productive meeting.
Consider the impact of these two scenarios when calling everyone to order:
Whether you love or hate the hybrid meeting arrangement, don’t let the circumstances overshadow the purpose of convening in the first place.
After kicking things off, it’s essential to build connection and engagement with everyone in attendance. How you go about this will vary depending on who’s there and why, e.g., an internal meeting versus a sales pitch, as well as how many people are present.
As the meeting leader, it’s up to you to control the flow of group introductions. For instance, at the start of an external meeting, coordinate with each person on your team to deliver a quick intro and then call on other group’s participants to do the same (so no one talks over another). Facilitating introductions is important for internal meetings too, especially when bringing together different departments or recent hires. At minimum, ask each attendee to say their name and department (if remote, where they are).
While it’s impractical and time-consuming for everyone to speak when meeting with a large group, you can still engage attendees with introductory show-of-hands and virtual poll questions or instruct remote participants to introduce themselves via the chat box.
Visual cues are vital to maintain engagement with both in-person and remote attendees. Remember to look into the camera regularly to stimulate eye contact with those who are remote. If you’re in the room, look at everyone around the table too.
Enhance remote participants’ visual access by adding a camera to your setup that captures in-room participants (e.g., aimed at conference table). This will help those who are remote see who is there, speaking, asking questions, etc. Similarly, display an enlarged view of virtual meeting participants on a separate screen so those in the room can more easily see their remote counterparts and feel more like they are there with them.
Check-in periodically to ensure everyone is still engaged and following along. Address remote and in-room participants directly so that no one misses the opportunity to speak or ask a question. Be mindful of quieter remote participants who are more susceptible to getting talked over or ignored by those in the room — using active listening can help ensure they (and others) are really heard. With larger groups, consider assigning someone to monitor virtual participants for hand raises, chat box questions/comments, etc.
As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed out in response to the hybrid work paradox (essentially, workers desire more flexibility and in-person engagement), “Creating equitable, inclusive experiences starts with designing for people not in the room. We want to ensure those joining remotely are always first-class participants.” So, besides enabling those who are remote to better see and talk with all meeting participants, consider the materials you plan to share and generate during the meeting (handouts, whiteboard notes, etc.) and how to provide equal access to those who are remote in real time.
For some things, this is as easy as emailing materials in advance and screen-sharing. For others, consider adding cameras in the conference room aimed at the whiteboard or other physical materials that someone is writing on. Record sessions too, so remote participants can view later in case of connection disruptions during the live session.
As you wrap things up, do a final check-in to confirm everyone, especially those on-screen, has a chance to speak, ask questions, etc. Recap key takeaways and what the next steps are, and then thank everyone for contributing to a smooth meeting.
Importantly, once you adjourn and remote attendees sign off, if those in-person continue the conversation post-meeting, be sure to follow up with the off-site people about any changes or additions. When your team is distributed and meeting with another company (or even another department), plan and let everyone know beforehand to stay logged on to debrief post-session. This keeps everyone on the same page for the next steps.
Leading hybrid meetings requires a heightened level of awareness and facilitation to keep people engaged and the agenda running well. Remember, no one likes to feel ignored or overlooked or out of the loop. Enhancing your A/V setup and keeping a positive attitude, while addressing the unique needs of remote attendees and giving everyone the opportunity to engage, will help ensure everyone feels included and participates fully.