In-Person vs. Virtual: 5 Tips for Managing Hybrid Attendance Customer Advisory Board Meetings

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With the Covid pandemic and related variants surging to and fro, many companies are struggling with their in-person travel and meeting procedures and policies. While they may desire to get “back to normal” operations to bolster their revenue streams, they are faced with ever-changing news reports, regional variations and mandates, and their customers’ own comfortability and guidelines regarding in-person engagement. As such, some companies are adopting a hybrid approach to meeting with customers – some is conducted face-to-face, while some customers are engaged virtually as they have throughout the pandemic.

Some B2B companies are taking this same approach to their customer advisory boards (CAB) meeting attendance; holding meetings with a mix of in-person and virtual participants. Here are five tips for adopting this approach:

1. Know the pros and cons: While the hybrid meeting concept seems to make sense to meet every member’s needs in today’s environment, CAB managers should be clear on what they’re in for. Having CAB members join in via phone or video can be problematic – it will likely be hard for them to hear and contribute to the conversation. If not managed well, such limitations may make for an inferior meeting experience for them, and the in-person attendees as well. In addition, offering virtual meeting attendance may reduce in-person participation by those who otherwise would have joined you, but may now take the easier, travel-free virtual participation option if offered.

2. Poll your members beforehand: Before committing to a hybrid meeting, poll your CAB members well in advance as to their preferences. There may be vast majority who want to participate in person, or who can only join an online meeting. If you have a strong majority, you may simply opt to hold your next CAB meeting entirely virtual or in-person, and only lose participation of one or two participants. Of course, those who are willing to travel to an in-person meeting should be able to join a virtual one. By asking your members in advance, you are letting them drive the decision that works best for them.

3. Test technologies: If you do decide to go with both in-person and virtual meeting participants, be sure investigate, price and test any and all technologies needed to enable this. This may necessitate utilizing your own, a vendor or a hotel’s expert AV staff. But do note that hotel internet connection speeds can be slower than what’s required for video conferences, so be sure to inquire as to their capabilities and experience here. Winging it on-site will almost certainly not go well.

4. Engage all attendees: You’ll want to be sure your virtual participants are engaged just as they would be if they were attending in-person. That means including them in your planned breakout exercises, brainstorming sessions and prioritization games. As such, you may need to send to them in advance any materials they need to fully participate in the meeting. On the flip side, if your company is a last-minute planner, your virtual participants may be forced into a lessor role in the meeting.

5. Use a skilled facilitator: A meeting with both virtual and in-person attendees will have even more need for a skilled, experienced facilitator to ensure all participants are being heard and actively engaged. Without this, or just using someone from your company, the virtual attendees may be ignored, tune out or become a distraction.

Mixing virtual and in-person CAB meeting attendees may be a necessity in the age of Covid, but doing so can water-down or even sabotage your otherwise well-planned meeting if not done right. As such, proceed with caution: be sure that this is the direction you want to go, plan ahead and prepare to engage all meeting participants as you would for an in-person meeting.

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