Hybrid Demo Meetings – The Challenges of Mixed Face-to-Face and Remote Audiences

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What is the strategy for handling situations where you are face-to-face with one group of prospects and other participants are connecting remotely? Treat the entire session as if it is a virtual demo!

Background

In the (ever-changing) New Normal, we should expect the following demo meeting scenarios:

1. Full Virtual:

These have been the “standard” operating modus during the COVID crisis – with all participants (both vendor and prospect) connecting over the web, via Zoom/Webex/GoToMeeting/Teams/etc.

2. Full Face-to-Face:

Pre-COVID, these came in two flavors: the first (most typical) taking place at the prospect’s site with all participants face-to-face in a conference room; the second taking place at the vendor’s offices. It is likely these will continue post-COVID, but potentially much less frequently!

3. Hybrid at the Prospect’s Site: 

Here we have four types:

3A: One or more vendor reps travel to the prospect’s site, presenting to some prospect participants face-to-face in a conference room, with other prospect participants connecting virtually over the web. 

For a shorthand approach, we could call this “VF-PF&R” for Vendor Face-to-Face, Prospect Face-to-Face and Remote.

3B: One or more vendor reps travel to the prospect’s site, presenting to all the prospect participants face-to-face in a conference room, with other vendor participants connecting virtually over the web. This would be VF&R-PF.

For example, the salesperson travels to the face-to-face meeting, with the presales resource connecting virtually over the web. This will likely become quite common.

3C: Vendor reps all connect remotely, presenting to prospect participants located both in a conference room and connecting remotely. VR-PF&R. This case is reasonably similar to Full Virtual, but with some important twists…!

3D: Vendor rep(s) travel to the prospect’s site, presenting to some prospect participants face-to-face in a conference room, with other prospect participants connecting virtually over the web – and some vendor participants also connect to the meeting virtually. VF&R-PF&R.

Example: The salesperson travels to the prospect site to present face-to-face; there are two prospect participants in the room and three prospect participants connecting remotely over the web; and the vendor presales person also joins the meeting virtually using Zoom/Webex/etc.

(Ick. And yet, this should be a highly expected scenario…!)

4. Hybrid at the Vendor’s Site:

Here we should expect three possibilities:

4A: One or more prospect participants travel to the vendor’s site. Some prospect participants are face-to-face in a conference room, with other prospect participants connecting virtually over the web. This would be VF-PF&R.

4B: All prospect participants travel to the vendor’s site and meet with one or more vendor reps face-to-face in a conference room, and other vendor participants connect virtually over the web. VF&R-PF.

4C: One or more prospect participants travel to the vendor’s site. Some of the prospect participants are face-to-face in a conference room with one or more vendor reps, with other prospect participants connecting virtually over the web – and some vendor participants also connect to the meeting virtually. Again, VF&R-PF&R.

[In theory, there could be a 4th type – where part of the prospect’s team travels to the vendors offices, but the vendor team connects entirely remotely. Hmmm… Can’t really visualize this happening, but one never knows…!]

First step? Understand what scenario to expect so that you can prepare… You can use the shorthand descriptions as a way to communicate internally to prepare:

  • Salesperson announces, “OK, folks, we have a VF&R-PF&R demo meeting coming up with the Acme opportunity next week…”
  • Presales person asks, “Great – will it be at their site?”
  • “Yes,” replies the salesperson, “I’ll be heading to their office next Monday. You can plan to connect remotely from your home office.”
  • “OK, and who will be face-to-face from the Acme team in the conference room with you, and who will be connecting remotely – and do you know what equipment they’ll have the room?” asks the presales person.
  • Etc.

Clearly, there needs to be more pre-demo planning and coordination than in the ancient world of pure face-to-face meetings…!

Second step? Understand the practices and skills (and equipment, potentially) needed to manage each scenario. Accordingly, here are some recommendations…

Guidance – Full Virtual

There are a number of articles and tips available for scenarios where everyone is connecting over the web, including:

There are additional tips in our Blog (see the Resources pull-down on https://GreatDemo.com and select “Virtual & Remote Demos” as the Topic and “Blog” as the Type).

[Note: it is one thing to simply read the guidance suggested in the above articles and blog posts; it requires practice to implement the ideas into day-to-day use…! Example? How many people actually use the annotation tools in Zoom/Webex/etc. their demos?]

Guidance – Full Face-to-Face

The Great Demo! methodology provides specific guidelines for software demo preparation, delivery, and follow-up. The key ideas can be found in the book or learned and practiced in Great Demo! Workshops, and additional materials on the methodology and specific topics are available on the https://GreatDemo.com Resources pages.

Guidance – Hybrid Scenarios

All of the Hybrid scenarios include a face-to-face meeting with at least one participant connecting remotely – and this is where the challenges begin…!

The general guidance for all Hybrid scenarios is simple and obvious: Treat the entire session as if it is a virtual demo! (OK, obvious to some; non-obvious to many!)

Why? Imagine the following: You are the prospect, working from home, and you’ve been invited to join a demo taking place at your HQ. At the appropriate time, you join the Zoom session and…

  • You can hear people talking, but many voices are garbled…
  • As the meeting gets under way, you can hear the vendor salesperson begin a presentation and see the slides (being shared over Zoom), but the voice cuts in and out…
  • Somebody in the room asks a question, but you can’t hear it or most of the answer…
  • You’ve been looking at a vendor slide for a while – and suddenly realize there must be some whiteboard discussion going on, but you can’t see it…
  • You try to ask a question, but no-one seems to hear you…
  • The demo begins and you can see the software over Zoom, but the presenter’s voice cuts in and out – you are lost…
  • After 35 minutes you drop out of the meeting – it was just a waste of time!

Pretty awful…! And your opinion of the demo and the vendor would be correspondingly low. 

So, for you as the vendor, the key guidance is: Treat the entire session as a virtual demo.

Yes, this will force you, as the presenter, to remain at your computer – and it also means that you’ll need to use your mouse for most of your movements (to point, annotate, highlight, etc.), as opposed to using a physical pointer and projector screen.

And if you move outside the view of your webcam, your remote audience won’t see it: “If the camera doesn’t see it, it didn’t happen…” (thanks, Julie Hansen).

Anything done outside of Zoom/Webex/GoToMeeting/etc. won’t be seen by the remote audience. If you move to a whiteboard that is out of the webcam view, it didn’t happen for the remote participants. If you move out of range of your laptop mic to address a face-to-face audience member’s question, it is likely that your remote participants can’t hear both the question and your answer – so it didn’t happen.

It will feel uncomfortable, initially, to operate solely through your laptop and associated webcam when you are face-to-face – but like our recent transition to pure virtual meetings, you’ll get used to it. And as you get comfortable with this Newer Normal, you’ll want to acquire and practice the associated skills.

Hybrid Meeting Skills – The Newer Normal

Here are some additional skills and tactics to consider in Hybrid meeting situations:

Pre-Meeting: If you are in the face-to-face conference room (VF)…

  • Organize and characterize the conference room (regardless of whether it is your site or the prospect’s):
  • What can your laptop mic hear? How far does that extend down the table and around the room?
  • If you are using an earbuds/mic combo (which enables you to physically move more), test as well.
  • (If you are using an extender mic system, arrange the physical mics and test similarly.)
  • “Block” your space: If you plan to use a whiteboard, use other visual aids, or move from your seat, you need to understand the limits of your webcam:
  • Consider putting marks (non-permanent!) on walls or whiteboards that define the limits of your webcam field of view – remember to identify both horizontal and vertical components.
  • Check for viewability – consider recording as you explore the range of movement and playback the recording to check focus and overall visibility. Webcams aren’t optimized for long-range views!
  • (If you are using an “active” video-conferencing system that follows motion, for example, you’ll need to characterize this similarly for sight and sound.)
  • Check the lighting:
  • How is the lighting when using your webcam, when seated and “driving” the presentation or software? Are in a shadow? Are there bright light sources that interfere?
  • Check the lighting if you plan to use a whiteboard, flipchart, or other physical tool.
  • Practice your personnel transitions:
  • Will the salesperson do a few slides (e.g., a Great Demo! Situation Slide and Illustration), followed by the presales person presenting the live demo? Make sure that the blocking is correct for both folks.
  • Does any equipment need to be exchanged or switched (e.g., mics)? Test and practice!
  • “Remote Participant Perspective” (PF&R): Ask a colleague connecting remotely (or your prospect host or champion) to check and report – how do things look and sound over the web?

Pre-Meeting: If you are presenting remotely to a Hybrid audience (VR-PF&R)…

  • Use a colleague or your host or champion and characterize:
  • The conference room (particularly if it is the prospect’s).
  • “Remote Participant Perspective” similarly as above – how do things look and sound over the web?
  • Identify and train, if necessary, an Active Conduit to help setting up and during the meeting. For example:
  • Are there delays – latency – with Zoom/Webex/etc. displaying your software or presentation?
  • Can they hear your voice adequately (can you hear theirs, as well, from around the conference room as well as the remote participants)?
  • Can everyone they see the full screen?
  • (Note: if you are working from a large monitor, you may need to change your resolution to ensure that the font size in your software is readable on lower resolution screens.)

During the Meeting (independent of your location):

  • All computer “pointing” and annotation needs to be done via Zoom/Webex/etc. – so that both the face-to-face and remote audiences can see what you are pointing at.
  • Repeat questions that are asked from audience members – for both groups. It will likely be difficult for every audience member to hear all of the other audience members. Asking for confirmation that questions have been adequately addressed is one way to check this.
  • Remember to continually engage the remote audience, in addition to those who are face-to-face with you. Ask the remote folks specific questions to keep their attention.
  • If you choose to engage in a mock “role-play” scenario, consider choosing a remote audience member as the first participant. Add a face-to-face participant to the role-play, in addition, if the scenario supports it.
  • Similarly, invite a remote audience member to “drive”, if appropriate – this will serve to engage both face-to-face and remote participants.
  • For ad hoc work, use the whiteboard capabilities in Zoom/Webex/etc. unless you have adequately prepared to use a conference room whiteboard or flipchart. (You can also use a blank PowerPoint slide if the collaboration tool lacks sufficient whiteboard functionality.)
  • Use the Zoom/Webex/etc. “Chat” dialog to “park” questions (or a Microsoft Word document or similar), so that both face-to-face and remote audiences can see and participate in the process.
  • Put more verbal dynamics into your delivery than you might normally do when operating face-to-face – and include more pauses of longer duration. This gives the opportunity for the remote people to ask questions, particularly if they need a moment to un-mute their phone.
  • Don’t be afraid to call a break, if the session is expected to last beyond 60-90 minutes. It is harder to remain engaged as a remote audience than when face-to-face. Consider making the break a non-standard length – such as “11 minutes” – to help people remember to all return at the appropriate time.
  • Keep in mind that different participants time-zones may be involved – and respect accordingly. You may have people in the session from San Francisco, New York, Frankfurt, Mumbai, and Sydney…
  • If you use visual aids or physical props, ensure that they can be seen clearly within your “blocking”.
  • Remember to summarize at the end of each demo segment!

New, Newer, Newest Normals

It is likely that new tools and technologies will emerge (and are emerging!) specifically designed to support Hybrid meetings – and new ideas, tactics and practices will similarly appear. Check our Blog for updates!

Treat Hybrid meetings (for the most part) as if the entire session is being run over the web. The organizations and individuals that learn and apply these new practices will earn a competitive advantage vs. other vendors…!

[Additional Reading: The gently satirical article “Stunningly Awful Remote Demos – Inflicting Pain at a Distance” suggests practices to avoid and offers methods for improvement in engaging audiences over the web.]

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