PARTICIPANT’S SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR HYBRID MEETINGS
You know it too well: that feeling of dread before a Zoom call, when you’re the one who’s calling into an in-person meeting. It’ll be hard to muscle your way into the conversation, and even harder to hear people when they’re talking over each other.
Or maybe this scenario is more familiar: you’re the one in the conference room with a colleague, deep in discussion with two consultants calling in from their separate locations. One consultant has limited bandwidth, and can’t access the collaborative whiteboard where most of your meeting visuals are posted. One of your colleagues forgets to speak into the microphone in the middle of the table, so you have to keep asking her to repeat himself. Instead of making progress, the meeting gets bogged down, everyone is frustrated, and now your project is even further behind.
Recognize the challenges? These are hybrid meetings, attended by online participants (“single connectors”) and members of an in-person group (“group connectors”). The collision of two meeting formats often makes these meetings difficult to plan and difficult to attend. And yet, we can expect hybrid meetings to become more prevalent in post-pandemic work environments. You need a participant’s survival guide to hybrid meetings!
The good news: you have the power to change your meeting experiences, even if you’re not the leader. To survive and thrive in hybrid meetings, follow three fundamental guidelines:
- Be seen and see others
- Be heard and hear others
- Get enough opportunities to contribute to the meeting
Here’s what you can do to meet these goals and take charge of your experience at hybrid meetings:
A: Ask for What You Need. Don’t remain a victim of circumstances! Identify what you need for a productive and enjoyable meeting, and express your needs to your team leader or facilitator. You can be sure that other participants are likely having the same issues. Whether you’re a single connector or a member of a group connector, you can request any of the following to meet your needs:
- Question whether the meeting is necessary; many meetings can be replaced by asynchronous work on documents and digital platforms. If the meeting is still necessary, your question about necessity may help to sharpen the focus of the meeting.
- Verify the need for your attendance; if you are not needed, you can use the time in more productive ways.
- Get an agenda for the meeting ahead of time, so you know what to expect and where you can best contribute
- Before the meeting, enlist one of the group connector members to be your “buddy” – someone who watches for your raised hand or signal in the chat; they can help you speak when you want to.
- Use a separate channel (via Whatsapp or Teams or other means) with the facilitator and/or your buddy, so you can let them know when you want to speak.
- Ask the people in the group connector(s) to turn on their room camera and seat everyone so that you can see everyone in the group.
- Ask the team leader or facilitator to position themselves where you can see them clearly.
- If the group is using flip charts or a whiteboard, either ask them to point a separate camera directly at the visuals or request that visuals be shared online instead.
- Ask the team leader or facilitator to include social time in the meeting design, so you can participate in pre- or post-meeting socializing.
- Ask the team leader to supply high quality audio/video equipment for the conference room; in the same vein, when scheduling a meeting, request a conference room with high quality video/audio equipment.
- Ask to position microphones so that everyone in the group can be heard, and request group members to speak directly into the microphones. Also request people to minimize extraneous noises from shuffling papers or unpacking food.
- Seat group members so that every person is visible on camera for single connectors.
B: Actively Participate. It’s easy to let your attention wander if other people are doing most of the talking and you have no other ways to contribute. Instead of staying in passive mode, get proactive:
- Do your pre-work well in advance; don’t waste others’ time by being the one who’s unprepared.
- Ahead of time, learn any new platforms the meeting will be using, such as a digital collaborative whiteboard.
- Arrive on time, so you hear the instructions and overview by the team leader or facilitator.
- Take opportunities to socialize: connect early if you can and/or stay on afterward if your meeting allows it. You can also follow up with other people, offline.
- During the meeting, ask yourself; “Am I fully part of this meeting?” If not, why not? Then ask for what you need; don’t wait until the feedback survey at the end of the meeting.
- Manage your mute button, so you can be heard when speaking, but not at other times.
- Be brief and concise; avoid rambling on.
- When speaking, look into your camera from time to time, so that other connected participants experience eye contact.
- If you are an introvert, take advantage of the chat box, asynchronous activities, polls, and other low-profile ways of contributing your experience and ideas, and extend yourself to participate verbally when possible.
- If you are an extrovert, it will be easy for you to share your experience and ideas. Be mindful of the introverts in your group. You can step back from speaking and participate in the chat, encourage more quiet people to speak by asking them questions, or you can sit back and focus on listening for a time.
- Participate on the digital collaborative whiteboard or in the Google Doc, if your meeting is using these or other collaborative spaces.
- Focus on the meeting and resist the urge to let your attention wander to your phone, emails, or other distractions.
- Take part in the digital sequels to the meeting, such as responding to surveys or posting content on digital platforms.
- Provide feedback on the meeting to your team leader or the facilitator, so the next hybrid meeting can be better.
- Turn video on, if your bandwidth allows. If you can’t use video, load a profile picture to show in place of a blank box on the meeting platform.
- Actively use the “hand raise” tool and chat box to make your contributions. When speaking, be brief and concise; avoid rambling on.
- Notify the facilitator or your “buddy” in the group connector, so they can open a space for you to speak.
- In your group, speak one at a time, and speak clearly into the microphone. Remember that single connectors have difficulty understanding anyone when several people talk at the same time.
- Recognize that single connectors are at a disadvantage during discussions: have a process for giving single connectors equal time. For example, some groups establish a “remote first” rule giving single connectors the first opportunity to speak. Other groups do a “go-round” to each attendee on key topics.
- Make sure that the meeting materials are accessible to everyone; for example, don’t use flip charts with an in-person group since single connectors can’t use them. Instead, switch to a digital collaborative whiteboard that everyone can access.
C: Master your Technology. Many hybrid meetings go astray when participants lack the equipment for an optimal experience or haven’t mastered the meeting platform and other digital tools. Both problems hamper participation and slow down the group process. Everyone gets frustrated, and some may feel embarrassed. Furthermore, lacks in equipment or knowledge may highlight sensitive inequities among individuals and groups; it’s important to handle these differences with awareness, care, and compassion. This includes recognizing that the options below may not be available to everyone and actively looking for ways to level the playing field. Here’s what you can do to master your technology:
- Ask for the level of technology that will let you participate easily and efficiently, without work-arounds or delays. Assuming you have access to a functional computer, the key items that make the most difference in meeting quality are (1) sufficient internet speed, (2) quality webcam and headset, (3) access to one or two large monitors, and (4) a quiet, undisturbed environment.
- Find out the bandwidth you need to run a meeting platform like Zoom, access a shared storage platform like Dropbox or Sharepoint, and run a digital collaboration platform like Miro or Mural at the same time. Calculating the bandwidth you need can readily be found through online searches.
- Before key meetings, update your version of the meeting platform (Zoom, Teams, other) on your device.
- A laptop is functional, but the screen may be too small to participate in meetings where the team is sharing files on screen or using a digital collaborative whiteboards for interaction. Adding a monitor screen significantly increases your functionality, and a second monitor increases that functionality even more. Adding monitors is also a productivity booster when you’re not in virtual meetings!
- Know where your audio and video controls are and how to adjust them.
- Use a headset with a quality microphone, for good sound quality and noise-blocking from your environment.
- Attend hybrid meetings in a quiet location where you won’t be disturbed by other people or outside noises.
- Set your computer controls to dampen the noise of your keyboard while typing.
- Once video is on, make sure your background doesn’t include any distractions such as spinning fans, bright lights, waving flags, or family members. Use a graphic screen if you wish.
- Whether at home or in the office, consider investing in a webcam and ring light, for a more professional-looking video presence.
- Know how to operate the audio-visual system in the conference room; practice ahead of time if you are unfamiliar with it.
- If group members plan to use their computers during the meeting, test audio beforehand. Each person may need to mute their computer microphones and/or the meeting platform to avoid screechy feedback in the room. Since each system is different, test this ahead of time.
- Do a dry run of the hybrid meeting with a partner to test all the activities you have planned: accessing the meeting platform, sharing files, running videos, running polls, setting up breakout rooms, etc. If the dry run turns up issues, you’ll have time to fix them before the meeting.
With the checklist above, you’re well on your way to improving your experiences with hybrid meetings, either as a single connector or as a member of a group connector. Let me know if you encounter any brilliant innovations that should be added to the lists above!
Read the companion articles in this series:
- Making Hybrid Meetings Work, Despite Colliding Formats
- Leaders’ Guide to Hybrid Meetings
- Facilitator’s Toolkit for Hybrid Meetings
I’m Andrea Ramage, strategic facilitator and owner of Somersault Consulting LLC. My passion is unlocking group genius through expert facilitation. Leaders and change-makers hire me to inspire and plan their new initiatives, solve challenges with creativity and efficiency, plan strategically for the future, align team members, and make decisions with confidence. To find out how I can support your next meeting, please give me a call at 425.495.9066 (Seattle, WA) or contact me.