Unveiling the Magic of Hybrid Facilitation

Why what happens behind the scenes has a direct impact on the success of a meeting

As the world continues to adapt to new ways of working in this post-COVID era, hybrid meetings have emerged as a captivating act for organizations. Hybrid meetings allow for both in-person and remote teams, bringing together individuals from various locations. Just like a theater production, where the magic happens behind the scenes, hybrid facilitation requires specific techniques and technologies to allow for effective communication and collaboration among all participants in a complex environment. With nearly two decades designing and facilitating meetings, I’ve pulled together five best practices to help you be successful in your next hybrid meeting.

Hybrid Techniques:
Using a check-in/checkout
Setting the stage
Audio/visual considerations

Engagement Tools:
Shared documents, e.g., google docs
Surveys/polls, e.g., surveymonkey, poll maker
Whiteboard apps, e.g., Miro, zoom whiteboard, Microsoft, lucidspark

1. Setting the Stage

Whether you have everyone in the same room, split between offices, or a blend, it’s crucial to establish clear guidelines and expectations to create a seamless meeting experience. Think of it as pulling the curtains back to reveal the scene. This involves setting a well-defined agenda, outlining meeting norms, and assigning roles and responsibilities to participants. By doing so, everyone knows their part, and the meeting can proceed smoothly.

During a hybrid meeting, setting clear expectations are paramount. Seek support or assistance to manage the chat function rather than attempting it alone. Consider utilizing two facilitators—one focused on virtual communications to manage the chat and calling on participants and the other in-person to control the room. Establishing ground rules, such as raising hands to speak, can help ensure all voices are heard. Some engagement techniques include active listening, paraphrasing, and mirroring to draw people out and get them talking.

2. Deliberate Planning, Flexible Execution

Many assume that virtual interactions can be replicated in the same manner as face-to-face encounters, but it takes intentionality. Unconscious bias often comes into play, where those physically present hold more influence than those attending through a phone or virtual platform. To overcome this challenge, a delicate balance is required.

What is unconscious bias?

The Unconscious Bias Project defines it as a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

Plan tight and hang loose. This is our team mantra. The ability to pivot and adapt, like walking participants through technical challenges, contribute to the meeting running smoothly. Technology can fail, power can go out, and audio can be lost. This is why we often recommend using two facilitators for hybrid meetings. Be prepared by having several design sessions, and rehearse talking points to make sure either facilitator can jump in to lead the meeting.

Make sure the technology supports the space. Audio/visual considerations are key to the experience. Determine the number of virtual and in-person participants and set up a space/environment that accommodates that capacity. Consider microphones that integrate with the call platform and speakers to relay audio from remote participants to those physically present. Or consider using directional vs omni-directional mics. For in-person, use a panning camera or have everyone on their laptops for screen and video sharing, but not audio sharing—run audio through a central speaker system in the room.

3. Reading from the Same Script

Make sure all participants have access to the same information. It’s akin to equipping the cast with the right props and scripts. By employing digital technologies—like video conferencing software, shared screens, and online whiteboards such as Miro—everyone can stay on the same page. Sharing relevant documents and presentations ahead of time also helps participants prepare and engage effectively during the meeting.

4. An Invite to the Show

Creating an inclusive environment where every participant feels valued and heard is crucial for all meetings. Just like balancing the spotlight among actors, this can be challenging when some are physically present while others join remotely. To address this, it’s essential to provide equal opportunities for everyone to contribute. Leverage chat functions or polling tools can allow remote participants to have a voice and actively participate in the meeting. Try prioritizing virtual participants by calling on them first if those in the room are monopolizing the time. Calling on people can help balance those taking space in the meeting.

5. Lights and Cameras

The technology used for hybrid meetings must be reliable and user-friendly. Technical difficulties can disrupt the flow of the meeting, much like a prop malfunctioning on stage. Therefore, the testing of the technology before a meeting is important. Have a contingency plan in place in case any technical issues arise.

Best practice tip.

Reserve time at the start of a large hybrid meeting to go over technology to be used. Basic user tips and tricks will help relieve any reservations or fear around using something new or unfamiliar.
Break a Leg

Hybrid meetings serve as an effective way to bring together individuals from various locations. To make these meetings successful, employing the right techniques is crucial, just as an exceptional theater production requires meticulous planning behind the scenes. By ensuring access to information, creating an inclusive environment, utilizing reliable technology, and establishing clear guidelines, hybrid meetings can be a powerful tool for modern workplaces.

Most importantly, extend grace to everyone in the meeting—participants and facilitators alike. Mistakes happen; someone might not hear you, or you may forget to call on someone. Instead of getting frustrated, apologize if needed and create space for open dialogue. We’re all human.

VMS has been delivering our services through distance-based, online, and virtual media and tools beginning with the development of our e-Learning platform in 2007. We have since conducted innumerable virtual and hybrid meetings, workshops, and offsites for public agencies using a variety of meeting platforms. Since COVID-19 we have adapted and refined our approach to offer flexibility and engagement to accommodate these evolving conditions while maintaining the effectiveness of our services and producing results.

About the Author:

Giuseppe (Joey) Nespoli, MSOD, VMA Joey has 19 years of experience designing and facilitating on-target, impactful workshops and trainings for a wide range of audiences and industries. He employs a variety of techniques, multimedia design, and technical equipment bringing his unique blend of warmth and humor to influence and enhance collaboration in meetings and workshops.