When the pandemic hit, the shift to virtual meetings was a blessing. Employees could still continue to work. Colleagues were able to collaborate. Conferences and training could still happen. And virtual connection was better than no connection at all.
But the surge of virtual meetings was not without issues. According to a recent survey, since the start of the pandemic 50 percent of employees have one to three hours of virtual meetings per week. And while complaints were frequent on the amount of time lost starting a meeting due to technical difficulties, still a little over half of employees prefer virtual meetings, while just under half prefer in-person ones.
Perhaps due to the availability of online meetings, this survey also found that from 2020 to 2021, the number of meetings attended by workers has gone up nearly 13 percent.
With an even split between wanting in-person and virtual meetings, and with workers spread further across the country (and world), creating a hybrid meeting would seem like the perfect combination. The trick, however, is to plan on combining these two modes of engagement to have the best outcome rather than a happy (or not so happy) accident. Here are four tips to get the right combo from the start.
INCORPORATING VIRTUAL PARTICIPANTS IN UNIQUE WAYS
The idea of combining virtual and in-person does dictate which meeting venue leads and which venue is folded into the mix. Simply putting up a large screen on the side of the conference or meeting would be akin to having people call in on a conference line. Instead, use a moderator both on the platform and at the in-person location to keep virtual attendees engaged. Have several monitors located around the room as well as several camera angles, so the virtual audience can be immersed in the physical environment.
Consider running polls with the virtual audience, sharing the poll results with everyone, and then asking in-person participants their reactions to the outcomes for further discussion. This is one time you don’t want to put your ‘virtual baby’ in a corner.
TESTING, TESTING, 1 – 2 – 3
Going back to the recent survey, the biggest complaint for meeting attendees was the delay of the start due to technical issues that should have been resolved. This is where practice, practice, and practice comes in.
When going for a hybrid meeting model, the weakest link in the proverbial chain is the technology. Be sure to include AV and IT at the conference’s location and discuss those hybrid plans, so they can provide guidance on the technology equipment that is necessary to have things run smoothly. Asking for a “practice run” with the AV and IT teams at that location should be on the list of to-dos. The onsite team can act as the in-person attendees, and others can join via the virtual venue.
This testing ensures cameras are at the proper locations, lighting and microphones are placed
properly, and the location’s bandwidth is able to handle the virtual surge in attendance. Understand and review the location’s back up plan if something fails as a final safety measure.
GRABBING ON-DEMAND CONTENT FOR LATER
Live streaming the in-person meeting for the virtual audience provides a great post-conference opportunity. By having several camera angles and both virtual and in-person audience discussions, a post-production video can be developed that captures both engagement venues and combines them in a unique way.
Many conferences will capture in-person testimonials. Since you have participants already on via a live streaming platform, this could also be a great time to ask a virtual participant to have a 30-second conversation about the conference or meeting during a break. These videos can be curated to make a virtual montage for those online participants and for social media engagement. On-demand content can also highlight how this meeting was different and allowed full participation, regardless of location.
USING DATA FROM VIRTUAL TO DRIVE BETTER IN-PERSON ENGAGEMENT
The hardest part of conferences and meetings is the lack of data to make optimization decisions. By having virtual participants, the data capture can be leveraged. This does not just include how many attendees are online, how long they stay, and how engaged they are with polls and the like. This is a captive audience who can also quickly do a short survey after a session or midway through a conference, to gain immediate feedback on how things are running.
Because these audiences are viewing the meeting or conference from a different angle, they can also observe those in person, and see how they are faring during the conference. It may feel a little ‘big brother’, but conducting and recording observations can be a great way of seeing if the audience is engaged, tired, bored, etc.
Even as the population goes back to in-person conferences and meetings, virtual meetings will be around for quite some time. By combining both in a calculated and strategic way, there is a great opportunity to get the best of both worlds. –