Posted on Apr 26, 2021

Part 1: Logistics

One of the greatest challenges for social and civic clubs intending on meeting in-person again will be when and how to host in-person meetings while keeping your attendees safe. Introducing hybrid meetings: an in-person meeting with an integrated virtual component, to allow for attendees to either join virtually or in-person depending on their preference.
Logistical Considerations
Before we can explore how to engage our virtual and in-person audiences, there are technical logistics that need to be considered.
  1. Is the WIFI fast enough? For a hybrid meeting to succeed, a high-speed wireless internet connection is going to be critical. If your venue does not have fast WIFI available, your remote audience will have a subpar experience at best. You can test the internet speed at your venue by going to your venue, connecting to their WIFI, and visiting an internet speed website such as with your browser. Zoom’s recommended minimum downstream (download speed) for video calls is 3.8Mbps (megabytes per second), with a minimum upstream (upload speed)of 3.0Mbps. To ensure a smooth connection for multiple devices simultaneously connected, I recommend a minimum downstream of 40Mbps and a minimum upstream of 10Mbps. The higher these numbers are, the faster the internet connection is.
  2. Is the venue’s atmosphere quiet enough? While some in-person meetings can be held at a cafe or a restaurant, a hybrid meeting requires a room with little to no background noise. Just think about all of those Zoom video calls you have been on where you have heard the background noise of someone driving, a television on, or a phone conversation overheard — we want to make sure to avoid that, as you will need to leave the meeting room’s microphone unmuted during the meeting. Make sure your meeting’s venue offers a quiet, private space for you to conduct your meeting.
  3. What about power and lighting? There are a few other items to think about such as making sure the meeting room has available power outlets and appropriate lighting to use. Fortunately, there is usually some flexibility in augmenting this, as you can bring your own power surge and extension cable, as well as your own lights if needed. Work with your venue’s team to make sure plugging in your devices will be appropriate for fire code, and that it will not cause the power breaker to flip. When in doubt, it is always good to test out your setup in advance, and making sure you are plugging in and turning on as many devices as you will need during a meeting.
  4. How many devices do you need? The answer to this question will depend on several factors including your meeting room’s layout, how many people will be physically present, and how the meeting is structured. We will come back to this particular question throughout this guide. For now, consider how many devices you think you need to capture the main stage, and whether or not you need additional devices throughout the meeting room.
Check out the previously published article on Setting Up Hybrid Meetings
Choosing the Right Platform
Zoom, Twitch, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Live, Youtube Live? There are so many incredible platforms you can use for your virtual component of your hybrid meeting. Choosing the right one will depend heavily on the structure of your meeting, and how many attendees you expect. Here are some high-level guiding recommendations:
  1. Zoom and Microsoft Teams: Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams are two of the leading video conferencing tools available. There is a small recurring cost for an account, but both have similar features. If you want the ability to have a private virtual session, manage virtual breakout rooms, then these two are most likely your preferred platforms. Zoom and Teams are both great platforms if you want to allow your virtual audience to have their webcams on and for the opportunity to be able to interact with one and another. Choosing between the two platforms is mostly a personal preference, as they have been directly competing against each other to match features.
  2. Twitch: Made popular by gamers, Twitch is a streaming platform that allows you to stream your video feed to the platform for other people to watch. Unlike Zoom and Microsoft Teams, there are not breakout rooms available in Twitch, and the ability for the virtual audience to directly engage is limited to the text-based chat room. Twitch does have some incredible extensions that allow you to add useful tools to your stream such as a donation tracker or announcement bar. This allows your virtual audience to make donations, and be automatically recognized on your video feed. Think of Twitch as the option to go with if you are treating your meeting as more of a TV show being broadcast to a virtual audience. Any engagement with the virtual audience would need to be directly facilitated by the host. Since you can broadcast your own computer screen, it is also possible to use Zoom or Microsoft Teams for your meeting, while broadcasting your Zoom or Teams meeting through Twitch.
  3. Facebook Live and Youtube Live: Both are gareat additional options for streaming. Similar to Twitch, Facebook Live and Youtube Live do not have the ability for your virtual audience members to directly join your stream with their video feeds. Instead, it is a great medium to stream your video feed directly to large audiences. This can be a great option if you have a special event or meeting that you want to have hundreds or thousands of people watch online. As audience members generally only engage via text comments in this environment, it is going to be important for the host to be reading the comments to engage with the virtual audience. Just like Twitch, it is possible for you to stream your Zoom or Teams meeting to Facebook Live and Youtube Live. Zoom has integrations to do this automatically.
  4. Other Options: There are so many platforms, it is not possible to cover them all here. You may find that your needs can be fulfilled with other tools such as Google Meet, Discord, Gather, or some other platform – take some time and check them out to see which one best fits your needs.
For the purposes of the remaining parts of this guide, we will be using Zoom as the platform.

Part 2: Meeting Structure

Now that we have thought through the logistics and the platform, we have to tackle how the meeting structure will work in a way that feels like a hybrid meeting and not just a one-way broadcast.
Structured Engagement
For an attendee, the ability to engage and have their voice heard is the main difference between a meeting and a recording. A virtual meeting that gives the attendee no opportunity to be engaged and to have their voice heard is just a video recording disguised as a meeting — often leaving attendees wondering if that was the best use of their time.
One of the greatest challenges of a hybrid meeting is coming up with a meeting structure that deliberately and strategically engages both the in-person audience and the virtual audience. Here are 7 ideas to consider incorporating into your meeting structure to help foster engagement:
  1. Assign a Meeting Coordinator: Having an individual assigned to be the meeting coordinator is a critical component to help bridge both an in-person audience with a virtual audience. The Meeting Coordinator needs to be physically present at the meeting venue, and also connected to the virtual meeting at all times. Their responsibility is to make sure to be the communication bridge between the in-person host team and the virtual host team. Your Meeting Coordinator should be intimately familiar with your virtual platform, and have their own devices (i.e. laptop) with them to connect to it. This ensures one person is responsible for making sure that the virtual audience’s voice is heard.
  2. Assign a Meeting Host or Master of Ceremonies: The meeting host generally should be physically in-person at the meeting. This person will run the entire meeting, with the assistance of the Meeting Coordinator and Virtual Facilitator. The Meeting Host’s main job is to make sure the meeting moves along as scheduled.
  3. Assign a Virtual Facilitator: A Virtual Facilitator helps to engage the remote audience with additional conversations, as well as serves the secondary role of providing technical support to remote attendees when needed. This can be especially helpful for any periods of time when the in-person audience needs to take a recess, has any in-person networking time, or is having a food or drinks break. Your Virtual Facilitator should be comfortable with the Breakout Rooms feature and have some virtual icebreaker exercises ready. If possible, consider also assigning someone to be the Assistant Virtual Facilitator in case your first facilitator has connections issues.
  4. 1-on-1 Hybrid Catch-up: Set aside 10 minutes of your meeting to allow for your in-person attendees to catch-up 1-on-1 with at least one other virtual attendee, by opening up your Breakout Rooms within Zoom, and encouraging each in-person attendee to connect using the Zoom App on their personal smartphone.
  5. Designate Time for Virtual Breakout Rooms: There will be a desire for attendees who are physically at your venue to want to naturally connect with others who are there in-person with them. Consider creating structured times during the meeting schedule for organic networking time. During this networking time, have your Virtual Facilitator open up Breakout Rooms and have your virtual attendees go into smaller groups to catch-up. This provides a networking opportunity for both audience groups, to make sure the virtual audience is not just sitting there and waiting while the in-person audience group is networking.
  6. Actively Acknowledge Individuals: Build into your meeting schedule structured opportunities to verbally acknowledge both in-person attendees and virtual attendees. This will help both sets of attendees feel connected, and feel like they were seen. Acknowledging individuals can be as easy as verbalizing someone’s comment in the chat or celebrating someone’s personal success.
  7. Personalized Attendee Follow-ups: Depending on the size of your audiences and meeting structure, it may not be possible to always give every person time to speak or to be recognized during the meeting. The last thing you want is for your attendees to feel invisible. Consider one to five individuals who are responsible for sending a personalized “Great to see you!” message to your virtual and in-person attendees during and after the meeting. Ideally, the individuals handling the follow-ups rotate per meeting, so that every time a repeat attendee visits, they get the impression that they are seen by others.

Part 3: Anticipating and Adapting to Challenges

As you are putting together the plans for both the logistics and the structure of your hybrid meeting, it is time to start running a risk assessment to anticipate potential challenges that come with hybrid meetings.
What can go wrong?
  1. Scenario: The internet connection at your meeting venue crashes or becomes unstable. Having a dedicated virtual host helps ensures your virtual audience is being taken care of even if the internet becomes unstable or unavailable at your in-person meeting venue. As an extra redundancy, it would be best practice to have both a primary virtual host and a backup virtual host can help in case there are any internet connection issues with your primary host, your backup virtual host can step in.
  2. Scenario: Zoom (or your video conference tool) fails or is unavailable. Just like your computers or local internet has a chance of failing, all digital services — including video conferencing tools — have a chance to fail or become unavailable. Having the contact information for all of your meeting attendees to be able to send out an urgent real-time message can be important in the event you need to quickly provide a status update or make an announcement. Having your preferred communication method setup in advance — such as an email list of all attendees or a text messaging service that can reach all of your attendees— makes a huge difference when you are busy putting out fires.
  3. Scenario: Your meeting venue becomes unavailable or it is no longer possible to meet in-person. Being flexible is a critical component to being successful in a hybrid meeting setting, and that includes being able to have a plan of action if you no longer can meet in-person. If it is just a meeting venue issue, do you have a backup meeting venue that meets all of your requirements and has the required internet and audio-visual setup? As a backup, are you able to quickly transition the meeting to a fully remote, online meeting instead — especially knowing that you already have a virtual audience that is committed to attending?
  4. Scenario: Your meeting host’s computer or tablet fails or becomes unavailable. Have backup devices for the computer or tablet devices you are using for both audience engagement and for video/audio streaming. It is best when these backup devices are already powered on, connected, and ready to be swapped in. That will help ensure minimal delay in keeping the show running, in the event of a disruption.
  5. Scenario: You have too many people either virtually or in-person. Unless your meeting requires registration in advance, it is sometimes difficult to know if you are going to unexpectedly hit your meeting capacity. What if your meeting is too popular? For the in-person component, do you have additional space to accommodate more people? For the virtual component, does your video conference tool — such as Zoom — have the upgraded account license to allow for more people? These are components to research, as upgrading meeting capacity is a different process for every tool. While this may be a positive scenario to have too many people, it is important that you have done your research and are prepared in the event you hit your original capacity limits. It is also important to note that as you scale up with more attendees, many video conference tools like Zoom impose other limitations. For example, the maximum number of breakout rooms in Zoom Meeting scales down the more attendees you have on — and breakout rooms stop functioning once you have 500 or more attendees on your Zoom Meeting, unless you have special permission granted in advance from Zoom Support.
  6. Scenario: Technical issues and all other delays. Remember the last time you were in an online or in-person meeting and there was a technical issue or delay waiting for someone? It happens all the time. While you may not be able to prevent all delays, it is important that your meeting facilitators — both the virtual and the in-person ones — are ready to quickly adapt. Having backup voice-only presentations, icebreakers, jokes, and conversation-starters ready to be used can help make sure an unexpected delay is a positive moment. If the meeting host is not comfortable with improvisation, then it might make sense to recruit someone who is great at impromptu to be the meeting’s designated assistant emcee or assistant host.
What else?
Not all of the possible risk scenarios are covered here. You are encouraged to think about everything that could go wrong, and what your action plan is for each of those scenarios. The more you can plan in advance for potential risks, the better prepared you will be if they ever happen. Proper preparation will make your unexpected scenarios seem like just a smooth bump in the road.
Article by: Rotarian Mitty Chang