Hybrid Meetings? Here’s How to Lead Them

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I’m not a fan of hybrid meetings

I’ve led many of them in my “side” role as a meeting facilitator, and they never go as well as purely live or purely virtual meetings.

Why?

Because, as my creative strategist Melea Seward says, they’re meetings where “some people are live and some people are virtual, and everyone’s having a terrible time.”

Hybrid meetings are the worst of both worlds (live and virtual), because:

  • Attendees are divided by their technologies into two competing, mutually exclusive camps,
  • Neither group can hear the other (or, often, even tell who’s speaking),
  • It’s hard to maintain order, let alone move the meeting agenda forward, and
  • All of the usual meeting frustrations—lack of focus, lack of messaging discipline, lack of closure—are amplified by the warring platforms.

The best way I’ve found to solve this problem is to stick with totally virtual meetings. This creates a truly level playing field, because—when every participant is on their own device, not crowded into a room trying to “share” one—participants can see each other, hear each other, and know that they’re being heard.

Unfortunately…

In spite of your best efforts, your boss, a senior leader, or an important client may insist on a hybrid meeting.

So if you’re the lucky person who’s nominated to lead it, here are some tips for making things go as smoothly as possible.

(And if you’re “just” a participant, you can help by discussing these ideas with the meeting leader, adding your own, and/or volunteering to do some of the tasks I describe below).

1. Talk to your technical people

If you work for a company that provides in-house technical support, talk with the A/V (audio/video) team as soon as a hybrid meeting is scheduled. Let them know,

  • How many people will be attending from your company’s conference room,
  • How many will be participating virtually,
  • What media (slides, images, video, a second live feed?) will be needed for the meeting, and importantly
  • Where the meeting leader will be located. [PRO TIP: If the meeting leader will be present virtually, you must have someone in the “live” room to serve as their lieutenant/traffic cop. It’s beyond difficult to control a roomful of people when you’re not in the room—and yes, that’s part of a good meeting leader’s job].

What you and your tech team are looking for is the best possible sound and video you can bring into the meeting. Some examples of equipment that you don’t want to rely on are:

  • Someone’s computer (that everyone in the room is supposed to be able to magically see)
  • A camera that’s posted high-up in a corner of the room (that’s supposed to magically make everyone in the room visible to virtual participants; it doesn’t).
  • A “microphone” in the center of a long conference table that everyone in the room is supposed to talk into and be magically audible

If the meeting is important, you need to have better solutions than these!

Why This Tip Works: It’s hard to overcome the conceptual barrier that makes online and IRL participants feel like two different teams. But if you have exceptional, or even solid, audio/visual equipment, at least there’s a chance that people will hear each other.

2. Create and circulate a clear agenda before the meeting

Free-form meetings that flow from topic to topic based on the mood of participants don’t work for hybrid meetings. So craft an agenda that’s detailed and specific, and send it to people a day before the meeting. [PRO TIP: Add the discussion times for each item]

Stress in your cover note that successful hybrid meetings require thought and preparation.

Ask that all participants review the agenda and think about what they’re most likely to contribute, and where they can hold back their thoughts in the interest of simplifying a tough communications challenge.

Why This Tip Works: A meeting that’s well organized and runs smoothly is much less likely to collapse under the weight of digressions, side discussions, confusion, frustration and competing agendas.

3. Set clear ground rules

It’s easier to play traffic cop when everyone understands the rules of the road.

So begin the meeting by telling people what you expect from them. For example,

  • Don’t speak until you’re acknowledged
  • Everyone speaks once before anyone speaks twice
  • “Play” will move back and forth between the room and the people who are present virtually
  • NO SIDE CONVERSATIONS (trust me on this; they’re a disaster in hybrid meetings)

These particular guidelines may not be your style; in that case, just substitute your own.

Why This Tip Works: When people understand what you expect from them, they are much more likely to cooperate, especially when you explain that hybrid meetings, by their nature, demand a lot of discipline. Invite every participant to join you in making the meeting a success by following the ground rules you’ve laid out (and perhaps, suggesting others to add).

4. Keep bringing everyone into the experience

Two ways to do this are to:

  • Call on people by name, alternating between live and virtual participants, and hold out for full participation
  • Keep summarizing what’s said. It’s very difficult to hear people in a hybrid situation (even with ideal equipment, which you almost certainly won’t have), so keep up a running play-by-play that insures everyone knows what’s going on.

When you end the meeting, don’t assume that everyone has followed, or even heard, the finer points of what was discussed and decided.

Instead, carefully summarize what happened, and follow up with a reminder email that includes any important details, and who’s agreed to do what and by when.

Why This Tip Works: One of the most frustrating things about meetings (right up there with disorganization, inefficiency, and a failure to set boundaries on wild card participants) is the difficulty of being heard. Assume that every participant wants to contribute, and do your best to make that easy for them.

But Wait a Minute? Aren’t these “Hybrid Meetings” Tips Actually Good for Any Meeting?

Yup! 🙂

These tips are useful for fully live and fully remote meetings, too. But they’re critically important when

  • Participants are in different (physical and mental) locations, and
  • Your audio and video equipment is probably not sufficient to bridge that gap.

In other words…in hybrid meetings!

So good luck negotiating this new and hopefully short lived type of group interaction. And if you need any help navigating meetings (preferably not hybrid ones!), just give me a yell.

hybrid meetings
Live vs. virtual
(Image by Mathew Schartz | Unsplash)

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