To answer this question and more, we spoke with Trevor Ambrose, a sales training coach helping businesses and individuals in Australia and internationally to improve their speaking and presenting skills. Trevor will share the best practices for both facilitators and participants in running engaging, inclusive and productive hybrid meetings. We also touch on some practical tips to ensure your physical workplace can effectively support meetings in the new hybrid working environment.
When the rapid uptake of working remotely began, there was uncertainty on how to proceed. Many were ‘technically challenged’ and had to learn and adjust to the new ways of working. “They didn’t know how to switch on. People were still fumbling around not knowing if their mic was on or off, how to switch on their camera, and even how to set up an account for video conferencing platforms.”
After several months working from home, some employees were getting ‘Zoomed out’ and overwhelmed by the constant virtual meetings. It became evident working full-time remotely is not going to be right for everyone or every role or business.
The need to bond and have physical connection with friends and colleagues signals that hybrid working will be the norm moving forward for most workplaces. “Even post COVID, it’s never going to go back to how it was where we would always do the physical face to face sort of meetings, but we’ll probably be doing a bit of both.”
With the higher risk of miscommunication and employee exclusion, managing hybrid meetings becomes more challenging than when everyone is physically present in the same room or all coming in virtually. Great facilitation is needed. One person, whether a team member or another participant, should be assigned to host or facilitate the hybrid meeting. Here are some best practice tips for the facilitator to help guide the meeting and keep things on track:
Plan an ice breaker or pre-meeting chat
One way to get everyone comfortable at the start of a hybrid meeting is to have an ice breaker or a pre-meeting chat. This will get people settled and test their audio and video connections. More importantly, ice breakers can help remote participants feel included from the very beginning. You can start the meeting with some informal chats about the weekend or about a recent event. A short poll or quiz can also help start things off. But make sure your ice breaker is quick and doesn’t eat up the time for the official meeting.
Use people’s names
Like in a face to face meeting, it’s important to know every participant by name. In a hybrid meeting, it’s even more essential to know the names of participants coming in remotely. Trevor mentioned he writes down the names of remote attendees on a whiteboard. “So when I talk to people in the room, I always make sure to say ‘hi’ and ask them ‘what’s your take on this?’ And I would constantly bring them into the conversation so that they don’t feel excluded.”
It’s easy for in-person participants to dominate meeting discussions. Knowing people’s names helps the facilitator to draw remote attendees in, keep them engaged, and ensure they have equal participation in every conversation.
It is important to make the hybrid meeting very interactive. If not, participants, especially the ones dialling in, will tune out and focus on other things in front of them. “As a facilitator, if I notice you doing something else or getting disinterested, I will begin to ask you direct questions to bring you back in. I will fish you back into that meeting, so that people will see I’m alert.”
You can also use some interactive tools like polls, Q&A or virtual whiteboards to keep participants engaged and focused. Facilitators can ask questions and have attendees answer through the chat box function within the virtual meeting platform.
Make the invite clear and stay on schedule
As a facilitator, it’s important to schedule the meeting properly for every participant. Make sure to send the invitation days ahead of time with the meeting room details for in-person attendees and the correct link to those joining virtually.
“Outline the purpose of the meeting and send a detailed agenda in advance. This can help especially when there’s more people attending. If there’s no clear direction in the meeting, it just fumbles around, and people get bored,”.
This sounds obvious, but as a facilitator, you need to be prepared. You have to spend some time planning the meeting. Especially in a hybrid setting, you need to carefully plan an agenda and how to achieve the objectives of the meeting. It may also be worth readying some questions or discussion points to get conversations going. If you are doing some interactive activities, make sure remote participants can join in and have equal participation.
Before starting the meeting, be prepared with some guidelines and rules to guide participants. Set the rules about asking and answering questions, muting and unmuting, and who’s presenting and when. As a facilitator, you also need to be comfortable with the controls when sharing your screen, recording the session, and other technical aspects of the meeting platform.