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.
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?
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
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 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.
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.
Articles from Elsewhere
CIO Review: Effective Management of Online/Offline Meetings