In June 2021, I attended my first in-person board strategy session since the pandemic began 15 months ago. I was delighted to grab a marker and write on a white board to capture the brainstorming ideas of a group of committed volunteers who were excited to be together. At the same time, I was facilitating a group of volunteers on Zoom who joined the meeting virtually and diligently followed the conversation and contributed their ideas. By the end of the 4-hour session, I was admittedly relieved that the blend of in-person and virtual had gone so well – buoyed by excellent technology, the ability to host small group breakouts both in-person and virtually, and attentiveness to the needs of all attendees regardless of their method of participation.
This is our new reality in both meeting and event planning. For the remainder of 2021, and likely beyond, we will be challenged to welcome all to our meetings and events regardless of geography, health, and busy schedules.
What are the key considerations we need to address as we step into this new reality?
1. Technology – Make certain that you have access to the technology to run a successful hybrid gathering. There is nothing more frustrating than a gathering that doesn’t provide an equitable experience for the attendees whether in-person or virtual. Consider your location, site needs, and personnel requirements to run a smooth gathering – and include plenty of time to test the set-up.
2. Experience – Plan your program or meeting agenda to accommodate both modes of participation. For example, what will your virtual guests do when your in-person guests are eating dinner? What materials/gifts need to be delivered to your virtual guests? Generally speaking, your in-person guests will have a longer attention span than your virtual attendees, so how do you time a program or retreat to achieve the outcomes you desire based upon this duality of participation?
3. Flexibility – If we have learned anything in the past 15 months, it is flexibility. Provide the best contact information to all participants in case they would like to change their mode of participation at the last minute. Also, be prepared to move your gathering to either fully in-person or fully virtual, depending on changing health guidance and/or changing preferences of your attendees. Remember to go with the flow if a technology glitch occurs. Your participants will understand and give you the grace to get back on track.
Speaking of stepping into the new reality, I forgot to mention the shoes. Wearing real shoes (aka, not my Birkenstocks) was perhaps the biggest jolt into the world of hybrid meetings. So, give your feet some time to adjust just as well, especially if you are the person running between the in-person attendees and those on the screen!