Evelina Bereni9 November 2022

Your hybrid workshops might suck. Here’s how to fix them.

Ok ok, we get it. Hybrid-work is the way of the future. Most organisations have some version of a flexible work policy now. Some have even taken the plunge into 4-day work weeks and meeting-free days. What doesn’t seem to be improving though is the approach to running hybrid workshops.

Those awkward pauses waiting for remote participants to answer… the group activities that we forgot to configure Zoom for… and the constant “Tom, you’re on mute”. This might be manageable when it’s a one-hour meeting but it’s pure hell when it’s a half-day training session, team building workshop or a whole-of-department strategy day.

There is one guarantee here. If you do not prepare, it will suck, and you will be wasting $1000’s of company dollars in salary costs and will not achieve the outcomes you set out to achieve.

So here’s how to do it properly.

If you simply can’t have everyone travel to be in the same location for your workshop and you have more than five people joining remotely, you have two options:

Option 1 (Gold Standard). Just don’t do a hybrid workshop. Instead, have everyone join virtually from their individual devices and deliver a completely virtual experience. This is actually what we recommend for a more cohesive and inclusive experience that everyone can be fully immersed in. It means no-one’s missing out on Shirley’s hilarious joke at the back of the room or the side conversations about Tim’s slick new haircut.

Option 2. If it must be hybrid, you have some serious preparation to do. The following section assumes the main presenter/ facilitator is in-person, so if your presenter or host is joining virtually, adjust as necessary.

  1. Get your tech sorted.
  • Get meeting software with an option for breakout groups. If you’re not doing group work in your workshop, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Video camera. It needs to be pointing at the presenter and hooked into your meeting software. If your presenter is virtual, it’s also ideal to have a video camera pointing at the people in the room.
  • Lapel microphone for the presenter. Depending on the size of your event you can use this to project the presenter’s voice in the room but more importantly, it’s so the people online can hear what’s going on without straining. I use this one.
  • Microphone for the audience (nice to have). Unless there are  built-in microphones around the room, you may need a roaming mic so online participants can hear participants in the room ask questions. Otherwise, make sure you’re repeating the questions and audience responses so the people online can hear.
  • Speakers. So you and the participants in the room can hear your online peeps.
  • Use two screens. Either find a venue with at least two screens or hire a second one to use in your space. Use one screen for your presentation and the other screen to show all of the virtual participants so they’re not forgotten.
  • Polling software. Depending on what you’re doing you may need to use Mentimeter or something similar to gather feedback or questions from everyone simultaneously regardless of their location.
  1. Plan Session Logistics.
  • Leverage brain power asynchronously by providing context, pre-reading, assessments or stimulus ahead of time so your time together can be uber awesome.
  • Pre-organise your participant groups with no more than five people per group. Put virtual people together for ease of breakout group management in zoom.
  • Physical room setup should be in table groups of 4-5 people. Any more than five encourages wistful chair swinging and non-participation.
  • Virtual participants should be joining on their own individual computers – not in other meeting rooms.
  • Allocate someone who is not presenting to manage breakout rooms and monitor the chat box.
  • Send handouts to virtual participants in advance and ask these to be downloaded (or printed) for easy access.
  1. Participant Engagement Tips (important for options 1 AND 2).
  • Allocate a team captain to each group who’s responsible for scribing and sharing. Call on these individuals to share. This eliminates the awkward silence that accompanies the sentence, “Who would like to share first….”
  • Ask virtual participants first when inviting comments and responses.
  • Prepare participants to respond by leading with “In a moment I’m going to ask you to share x,y,z”.
  • Use shifting (a technique that leverages solo thinking time) to capitalise on all the brainpower of everyone in the session, not just the loudest people.
  • Switch it up using different modalities, videos, lecture content and speakers to keep people’s attention on you, rather than on their inbox.

So there you have it. After reading that monstrosity you might decide to default to either flying everyone in to be together, or hosting your next workshop 100% virtually instead. But, if you do choose to venture into hybrid, you’ve got a guide to help make it a success!

Good luck!