Those of us who Chair and lead meetings have had to get used to a whole new set of disciplines since the Pandemic and the return to normal working patterns. Having got used to virtual meetings, we now find increasing incidences of the “hybrid meeting” – where some people are present in the room and others are joining the meeting virtually.
Hybrid meetings are increasingly common. And they create a challenge for the Chair as to how to make the meeting as effective as possible for all the participants.
Joining the Meeting
Before a Hybrid meeting starts, you need to make sure that the room is set up adequately to allow for those joining virtually to see and hear the meeting, and crucially, to be seen and heard.
If your room does not have a Teams or Zoom integration into the screens then you need to explore tools to enable this to happen.
You will need a screen of course and a mechanism such as a speaker to enable the virtual attendees to hear.
There are technical solutions that act as a camera and a speaker that can be placed in the meeting room and which allow for virtual attendees not just to see and hear all those speaking but also then to speak. These are called Smart Hybrid collaboration tools and there are many on the market at a range of pricing points. As hybrid meetings become embedded, these collaboration tools are worth investing in.
It is worth remembering that many virtual users are still not perfectly comfortable with the ease of joining a virtual or hybrid meeting. Both Zoom and Teams allow you to click straight through to the meeting from your Outlook or other calendar. But there are still many people who will text you just before, or sometimes just after the meeting has started, asking for the Link. Both Zoom and Teams allow you to read the meeting ID from an Email or copy to a text message., So, it is worth reminding virtual attendees how to join a few hours before the meeting and having someone on standby to send links out to those who have lost them.
Starting the Meeting
Both Zoom and Teams have a “waiting room” or “lobby” function. I suggest you use that for the virtual attendees. It allows you to see who is joining, and that in turn allows you as Chair to greet each person as they join. This retains the personal touch that would be present at a physical meeting. This feature also allows you to protect yourself against unwanted visitors. Unlikely I know, but I am aware of meetings that have been bombed and you really need to avoid that.
I suggest also that before you get into the Agenda of the meeting, that you explain to the attendees the rules of the hybrid meeting and how you intend to chair it. Crucially, you need to explain how those joining virtually will be able to contribute.
Controlling the Meeting
Most hybrid meetings will have relatively few participants. A Board meeting for example will only have a small number of people joining virtually.
However, especially in the Rugby Football League, where there are many stakeholders, you can have a hybrid meeting where there is a large number of people joining virtually a meeting where there is also a busy room of personal attendees. We have Council meetings where most people are in the room but as many as 10-15 stakeholders may want to join virtually.
There are some tools and techniques that I find useful. There is no substitute for the Chair having their laptop in front of them for the meeting and joining the meeting as a participant so as to be able to see and chair those joining virtually, especially if they are not clearly able to be seen on screen by the physical attendees of the meeting.
Technically, most conferencing apps, like Teams and Zoom, allow you to see multiple people on screen at any one time. But, I find it does not really help, as you rarely end up scanning all the faces and, when it comes to people speaking, you need to use a few common tools to ensure good order.
Firstly, mute everyone online, except yourself. Both Zoom and Teams allow the Chair to be appointed the co-host and then you can mute everybody except yourself. Make sure you announce at the beginning that this is what you are doing.
I suggest that you set up your own screen in such a way to allow you to manage the meeting.
- Put your screen to Gallery View to allow you to see as many people as possible.
- Press the participants button and keep it open so you can always see the list of participants.
- Also keep open the chat function.
These tools allow you to offer a number of options for how virtual attendees can get your attention to speak.
- Use the Raise Hands or Hands Up button. This is the easiest. You can see on their icon and on the participants screen who has raised their hand. Remember, when they start speaking, to lower their hand which you can do as host or co-host. I suggest that as Chair, you actively lower someone’s hand when they are speaking, so you know that you have gone to them. You can do this on Teams. I have lost count of the number of meetings where I have had to ask if the hand up is from the previous time or if they indeed want to speak.
- People will be joining from a host of different devices, so they may not be able to find the Raise Hand button. So, other options include allowing them to send a message on the chat function to say that they would like to speak. This is why you need to keep the chat screen open.
- Actually raising their hands. Some people still do this and if you are on gallery view, you have a chance of seeing them.
“You’re on Mute”
People need to remember to unmute. It is amazing how many people forget to do this. So, I tell people that I am coming to them and give them a little time to prepare by unmuting. You do need to give people a second or two to find the unmute setting and to talk so do not be too eager to jump in and accuse them of still being muted.
Once they have spoken, people are getting into the habit of muting themselves again. But, if they don’t, you as the Chair can mute them. Remember to check this.
I have found this step the trickiest every time I chair and lead meetings. The raise hands tool is the easiest, as you can simply count that. But I recently chaired a 50 person meeting at which a vote was carried out, and I had people voting with the hands Up button, and by sending a message, and by physically putting up their hand. It made it very difficult to count the votes.
We have now worked out how to vote using Google Forms. It works well, but setting it up is technologically beyond me. Thank heavens for a technically savvy Company Secretary and an efficient Executive Assistant.
You need to enable screen sharing by anyone so that colleagues can share papers and presentations and ensure that the presentations are available to the virtual attendees. Make sure you stop the screen sharing as soon as the presentation is finished.
A tip too for anyone sharing their screen. Clear your computer of anything else that is open. The last thing anyone wants is to see your cluttered windows or, heaven forbid, any personal messages or communications.
If you chair and lead meetings physically, you would allow people to get up for a comfort break, or to wander to get a drink. So, if your meeting is scheduled for more than 90 minutes, I suggest you build in a 10 minute comfort break. Announce that you are going to take a break and when at the start of the meeting so the virtual attendees know to take a break. Announce how long the break will be and ensure that you come back at the appointed time for the virtual attendees to rejoin.
If you Chair and lead meetings, it is your job to keep it moving, give people who want to speak the chance to, to retain order and to finish on time. This is particularly challenging with a hybrid meeting
I find chairing hybrid meetings tiring. Chairing a room full of people, whilst also staring at a screen, with chat and participants open, keeping an eye out for who has raised their hands or who wants to speak, requires great concentration.
Hybrid meetings create a new set of challenges to being a good Chair. But, as with everything, having a clear set of rules and practising will make these virtual meetings better.
Get it right, and hybrid meetings will remain part of the armoury of a Chair.