While the Covid pandemic may be (finally!) waning or even (hopefully!) coming to an end, we’re seeing a somewhat delayed and mixed reaction from some of our clients. While many eagerly look forward to resuming in-person customer advisory board (CAB) meetings, others and, more specifically, their members are still taking a ‘wait and see’ approach for near-term meetings. As such, you may likely have a mix of those willing to meet again face-to-face, and others who are less enthusiastic about jumping back into a room full of people.
As such, some of us at Ignite Advisory Group have been participating and facilitating a mix of in-person and virtually attended CAB meetings. I’ve given tips previously for those going this route, and now that we have some of these under our belts, now would be a good time to convey some additional advice for those hosting hybrid-attendance CAB meetings:
1. Confirm your vaccination policy: You will want to state a clear vaccination policy for those who desire to attend the meeting in person. Are unvaccinated people welcomed? Are the original two vaccinations enough or are boosters required to be “fully vaccinated?” Perhaps alternatively “no vaccinations required” is your official policy? Finally, while everyone is familiar with masking after two years of the pandemic, our recommendation is not to require them within the in-person meeting room – it’s simply too hard to hear through them and defeats the purpose of an in-person gathering.
2. Leverage technology: For those companies hosting hybrid-attendance CAB meetings, the skilled use of AV technology will make or break your gathering. That means using two screens in the room – one for the meeting content and the other for the faces of the virtual attendees in gallery mode. In addition, using 360O cameras that detect voices and move to show the various people speaking are recommended to keep the virtual participants following the conversation, as are microphones to amplify the voices in the room for the web participants. And it goes without saying that robust internet connections will be a must-have. As such, most hotels are, unfortunately, not up to the task in our experience – most successful hybrid CAB meetings we have managed have been held at company conference rooms.
3. Include a virtual monitor: In addition to the skilled AV people needed to set up the above equipment, we recommend a dedicated person in the room to monitor the virtual experience, to ensure everything is working for the online attendees, communicate any needed adjustments that can be made on location and to help watch for virtual attendees wanting to join the discussion. Otherwise, you run the risk of providing an inferior experience for the virtual attendees that may cause them to withhold participation, or worse, drop off.
4. Use more visuals: While a skilled facilitator is always a must for well-run CAB meetings, this is even more urgent for hybrid meetings to ensure full participant engagement. In addition, this person, or better yet another dedicated note taker or even an assigned illustrator, might jot down key discussion points or highlights on a whiteboard or flip chart that will enable everyone – especially the virtual attendees – to keep track of the discussion and not miss the key messages and takeaways.
5. Include member exercises: Breakouts are an effective way to engage both the in-room and virtual participants. Just as you would for an in-person meeting, create breakout teams for the in-room and virtual participants and assign a member team leader for the readouts. You will want to assign a host monitor for each virtual breakout to address questions or issues.
6. Plan, practice and test: Of course, rehearsing and practicing all sessions and exercises with the meeting equipment will ensure everything is working as desired and that an excellent meeting experience is delivered to both in-person and virtual meeting attendees. That means having all meeting materials well in advance and going through everyone’s presentations will be even more important than a standard in-person or virtual meeting. In other words, getting presentations completed at the last minute and “winging it” with the AV equipment the day of the meeting will almost certainly lead to a sub-par experience – or worse.
While most professionals are eager to resume in-person meetings, in the near term, you may need to consider holding a hybrid-attendance CAB meeting to include those who are not quite ready to meet indoors again yet. But considering the pros and cons, preparing and testing all technologies and ensuring all participants are hearing and participating will be keys to success – and require more dedication and attention to detail than may have been needed in the past.