Preliminary Thoughts on Running Online/Offline Meetings

This is information we’ve pulled together in advance of our July 25 workshop on running mixed online / offline meetings (a.k.a. hybrid or “meetings with online attendance”).

We’ll continue to add to this information in advance of the event and publish our best recommendations afterward.

Roger Fung

Hybrid requires lots of commitment.  Most meeting rooms are not set up or conducive to a mix format.  If the club has only one online member; the SAA set up all the gears; but said member was no-show for 2-3 weeks; is the club going to continue with the hybrid format?

Most clubs will be better off alternating 100% in-person & 100% online meetings.


Attached are two files I’ve used in prior presentations.  Feel free to edit & use them however you please.

A few words of caution:

1—as more locales reopen, HQ will have to issue new rules.  New directives from HQ will alter or nullify some parts of this discussion.

2—“hybrid” can mean whatever your club wants it to mean.  Mixed audience every week; alternating online/in-person meeting; meet online 3x & in-person once per month; meet in-person 3x & online once per month, etc…

3—if there is a will, there is a way to set up a room for hybrid meetings.  Given enough time & resources, trials & errors, a “perfect” setup can be found.  But the physical setup is the easy part.  It’s the social, relational part that is the most difficult to manage.  You may have the will & commitment, but does the rest of the club have it, too?

Michael Alexander

My other club (A.C.T.S., of which Carl Walsh is also a member, so I am
cc:ing him so that he can add his insights), has been holding hybrid
meetings for a while now.  For the most part, they have been brick and
mortar meetings, with on-line attendance for one or two people who are
distant, rather than a “balance” of virtual and physical attendance,
but I believe some insights can be gained from our experience.

A.C.T.S. is an advanced club (in fact the “A.C.” stands for “Advanced
Communication” – the “T.S.” stands for “Training and Speakers
Bureau”), and it generates a fair amount of loyalty, so even when two
of our members moved away from the area, they wanted to attend.  We
have made that possible.  But, our first experiences as a mixed club
came from the speech clinics we run for the local TMs.  One of our
evaluator/coaches moved from the Los Angeles Area to the east coast,
but we wanted to have him continue to help coach at the workshops.

The basic set-up has been to have a camera set-up to cover the
speaking area (the front of the room) and a projector to show the
images of our virtual attendees, on the screen behind them.  In order
to avoid stealing the stage, virtual attendees are encouraged to turn
off their mics and cameras when they are not speaking, so that they do
not distract the audience from the speaker on stage.  (Note that ZOOM
has an option to “hide non-video participants” GoToMeeting has a
similar option.  Not sure about all of the others, but if the option
is available, the person using the projector could use it, it may
result in a large screen version of the presenter on stage, although
turning off the projector during the actual speech might be a viable
option, depending upon the size of the stage and preference of the
speakers.)  Personally, I prefer that the computer running the
projector be turned so it is visible to the person in the speaking
area.  That lets the speaker see the virtual presenter, if he is
presenting, and the “moderator” of each section to see if a virtual
hand is raised.

All persons physically presenting, therefore, should be encouraged to
stand in the speaking area, whether they are speakers, evaluators,
table topics, or functionaries, although some roles (like “ah
counter”) may nor merit full attention, and the timer needs special
handling.  That makes them more easily available to the virtual
attendees.  Virtual attendees should turn on their mics when they are
speaking, and will need to turn on their cameras when they are
speaking, or when they are trying to raise their hand to speak.
Turning the virtual attendees’ cameras off for evaluations by others,
etc. is probably not as important (and may not be practical), but
these cameras should probably be off during speeches.

The timer has to be seen by both the in person and virtual attendee.
In person is easy enough.  But, to make them available to the virtual
attendee I recommend considering putting a camera on the presenter, so
that they can show the time both on the big screen or to the in person
presenter, at the same time.  (Even when in person, I have joined the
meeting on my phone on some occasions, and a club might want to have
someone monitoring, and even directing the mics and cameras in the
room).

The main problem is sound.  You need to make sure that you have
adequate speakers, so that the virtual attendees can be heard in the
room (they should mute their own speakers to avoid feedback), and that
your microphones are capable of picking up whoever is talking from the
speaking area.  This means that the computer’s microphone is probably
not adequate (when speaking a lavalier mic might be a good idea, or a
decent directional mic).  This is not an issue to be casual about.

That’s the bulk of what I have concluded from my experience.  If you
have any questions please feel free to ask.

Birgit Starmanns

Birgit will be sharing experiences from her work for the enterprise software company SAP

Actually, the [format of] one (or two) people sitting in remote locations is actually pretty common in my company, especially since we are global, so while there were similar hiccups at the beginning (and we have a “coffee corner culture” at HQ in Germany), everyone has gotten used to the remote way of working over the past decade.

There’s also the matter of roles. If it’s an analyst who is remote, he/she has no trouble getting airtime. But we have found a few strategies to help; which yes, includes having everyone on their laptop to see a presentation (plus projecting the screen at the same time), that helps remind everyone that there are other people as part of the meeting. And it is also the responsibility of the primary facilitator at a meeting to ensure that no one is left out.

Moira O’Brien

My experience comes from being a filmmaker and applying my knowledge to toastmasters. My first hybrid meeting was in 2018 with the first meeting of an advanced club when we had 18 onsite and 7 online attendees. Following that meeting I have simplified my ideas for hybrid and I conducted a club workshop with online attendance in January (before Covid shutdown). Since then I have included a segment on The Talk Show for Talkers podcast – no 4 on this page and a list of suggested additional hardware needed for an ideal solution here.

Larry J. Miller

Larry Miller is one of the Toastmasters we queried to find out more after he registered for our event saying he had a lot of experience with the mixed online/offline format.

* What does “a lot” mean in your case?

In 2012, I joined a group of Toastmasters who were working on an HPL project sanction by Toastmasters International to see if we could have a viable Toastmaster club totally online. We tested many of the video platforms and tested various ways to run a Toastmaster club online. We chartered the first totally online club called Netizens on March 25, 2016. Since about 2013, I had been running a “Speakers Workshop” where we workshoped each speakers speech in a round robin evaluation plus a written evaluation.  About 2015, I added virtual speakers to the mix.

* How is running one of these meetings different from an all-online meeting?

The main difference is your setup time.  You have to make sure you have someplace with a good Internet connection and you have to set up a projector and screen and at least two cameras. One for the audience and one for the speaker.

* What are the additional challenges?

Looking for both tech challenges and leadership / organizational ones.    An additional challenge is having a good Internet connection. I don’t have any leadership/organizational challenges, because I am not associated with any other group.

* What are the additional benefits?    

I think the main additional benefit is having more speakers.

* Do you prefer the mixed/hybrid format over online-only or in-person-only meetings? Under what circumstances does it makes sense?    

It takes more planning and setup time for a mixed/hybrid meeting. I’m not a big fan of regular Toastmaster meetings being mixed/hybrid meetings. There is a certain bond that an all in person meeting attains and there is a certain bond that an all online club attains. But I don’t feel the mixed/hybrid clubs really bond like the other two types.

* What would be your advice to leaders at clubs who had never conducted meetings online before the COVID crisis and may not have a lot technical expertise within their clubs?

Connect with an all online club like Netizens which has always been an online club and see if you can get someone to mentor your club for a couple of meetings. We would be willing to help the clubs get started.

Shyam Pyarauk

Thank you for organizing the workshop. 

Well before Covid, I had two opportunities with hybrid meetings. [1] I recommended and supported one of the weaker clubs to start hybrid meetings, so that club meetings are lively and members/guests can participate from anywhere and it kind of worked. [2] A past member of my home club wanted to attend the meeting from overseas + VPE wanted to attend the club meeting remotely. Thanks to the District 76 team, well before Covid challenge, the district team has encouraged and supported online/hybrid meetings by sharing (upgrading) individual club Zoom accounts.

My home club Pioneer Toastmasters members are currently enjoying hybrid meetings, by both, members who are unable to travel and members who love to have onsite meetings.

All online is easy to moderate, except speakers are not comfortable, reasons include houses in Japan are small, lighting is not good (our meetings are in the evening), body language is not effective, and depending on the laptop and internet connectivity AV quality is erratic and not good.

Our current setup [Click the links to see the equipment we are using] – Panasonic G9 connected to MBP via Blackmagic mini recorder, a projector {Free rental projector provided by the Meeting place) to show the online audience on the wall.  Ipad as a second camera for online audience to see (a) the people physically present in the meeting room {specially it helps online TT master} (b) Timing signals  (i know we can use the online timer tool or virtual background, but our members are comfortable with displaying physical color cards).  A Bluetooth speaker and a USB 360 degree mic

I tried the built in mic of the Tronsmart Bluetooth speaker, but the online audience mentioned it was not good. 

If a speaker present in the room wants to use  the slides, we ask them to log on to the personal zoom account and share slides using zoom slide share so that both online and onsite audience can view slides. It is very important that people who log on to their Zoom account and are physically present should mute the mic and turn off speaker, otherwise there will be issues like echo. 

Few points: I prefered DSLR camera, as it produced good video quality but I am not sure if the DSLR + BlackMagic Mini Recorder consumes high wifi bandwidth .  Canon, FujiFilm and Panasonic have released updates to support the webcam function. I am yet to try Panasonic Tethering mode on Zoom, which might avoid the BlackMagic Mini recorder.

In Japan people are wearing masks, even while giving prepared speech, which is not comfortable for the speaker & audience are unable to catch up adding to the language and pronunciation barriers .

As already pointed by others, Mic and internet connection is a big challenge. I have used a handheld mic, pin mic, 360 degree mic, etc., 360 degree mic worked better, but it seems to be capturing noises from the room. With zoom there is always an audio time lag, i am not exactly sure if it is because of zoom or wifi connection., this means we have to scale down the meeting agenda to accommodate buffer time.

I used Pin mic for the contest, and it worked fine. I have to try pin mic during the real meeting, but Pin mic is an issue because of Covid social distancing.

Carrying equipment every time to the meeting place seems to be a hard work, but I enjoy it.

I have to do more trials to have perfect hybrid meetings and want to learn and adopt good points from other clubs.

Full online or Hybrid meetings are important so that the club gets going. Yes, online/hybrid meetings gives an opportunity for Toastmasters to upgrade both communication and leadership skills, let’s embrace, learn, share and enjoy.

If the speaker is giving a speech remotely, he has to use additional skills to impress the audience. I am hoping film maker O’Brian might throw some light.

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