With COVID-19 restrictions behind us, lessons have been learnt and ideas shared about the pros and cons of ‘in the room’ meetings versus ‘online’. Is there a third option between the polarity? Of course there is, it’s known as hybrid.
Some don’t like the idea of hybrid and consider it a miserable experience; they think everyone should be ‘in the room’.
Some don’t like the idea of hybrid and consider it a sub-optimal experience; they think everyone should be online.
Some like the idea of hybrid and consider it the win-win option allowing each participant to engage bringing their strengths and personality to the encounter.
We have been doing a different kind of hybrid meeting for years, as different personalities gather to generate ideas, seek solutions, solve problems, progress projects, set policy and make decisions.
I like hybrid. I like to explore and experiment. I’m an ENFP Myers Briggs personality type, and like to think that I am aware of differing needs in those with different personalities.
There is a good article explaining the different ways different personality types engage with remote working at: https://www.fastcompany.com/90582809/a-practical-guide-to-working-remotely-with-all-16-personality-types
Some will clearly thrive in the online space, while others are at their best in physical space with others . No rights or wrongs, we interact differently.
There are many pitfalls to online and hybrid meeting. There are many pitfalls to on-site meetings. There must be honest reflection on whether the negatives are because of the online context, or because of the culture, experience and expectation that we bring to any meeting.
Hybrid gatherings bring many advantages including:
- Choice for participants to engage in ways that allow them to give their best to the experience.
- Carbon-footprint reduction by reducing travel
- Time saving, reducing travel to and from meetings. Those living in remote areas often appreciate ‘remote access’
- Choice to remain home in the family space while working without child-care/ parent care implications
- Inclusivity: allowing disabled, or infirm people to engage, and with live captioning for example will make it possible for the hard of hearing to participate in a more meaningful way.
- possibility of many different ways to engage creatively using virtual white-boards, online Q&A spaces and so on.
I recently drove 5 hours to attend an ‘in person’ consultation. Similar events had been online. It was really good to see people ‘in real life’. At the online events at least as many comments and ideas as people present were captured. At the ‘on-site’ meeting – the number of contributions ‘from the floor’ represented about 10% of those in the room! Enough said…
IRL, or ‘in real life’ enters our vocabulary. We talk of virtual meetings, and of ‘in person’ gatherings. Can I suggest that there is nothing virtual or any less ‘in person’, when we encounter one another using current technology.
In recent years, I have facilitated small hybrid meetings with participants around my rural congregations at virtually no cost, have facilitated hybrid Presbytery meetings with around 40 participants half online half in the room with a portable set up with a few hundred pounds worth of kit, and lead the brilliant team that has enabled a General Assembly with around 700 participants to meet, costing several tens of thousands of pounds in tech and people hours.
Hybrid is technically complex to achieve, but quite achievable as long as you can put in a little more effort and expense than simply plonking a laptop in the centre of the room and expecting everyone to have a satisfying experience.
For a small group of up to 6 or so meeting together sharing with a number of participants that can be seen in one screenful, the single laptop solution will work.
Beyond that, you need to consider:
Who will facilitate the tech aspects?
From experience, I’d say don’t try to facilitate or chair anything beyond the simplest of meetings yourself and keep an eye on all the tech aspects. Have someone else admit participants, watch for virtual hands, human hands, chat messages and ensure that online participants are brought into discussion as seamlessly as if they were in the room.
Audio In, Audio Out, Video In, Video Out
How do we ensure we hear everyone in the room?
You need to get audio into the computer running the on-line platform usually via USB. For a small meeting a single mic may suffice. Boundary mics are designed to pick up voices from a wide area and placed in the centre of a room will be effective. For larger spaces multiple mics will be required in which case an audio interface (analogue to digital/USB – such as Behringer UCA222) will be required to connect mics (via XLR or jack plugs). An audio mixer can be connected to an interface, and many are available with USB connection built in.
Zoom, MS Teams and many other conferencing solutions provide very good ‘audio cancelling’ meaning that you don’t get feedback causing noisy audio. Experiment with the set up before the first real meeting!
How do we ensure we hear everyone online
The internal speaker on a laptop will probably not be sufficient for all but the smallest of meetings. Connect a Bluetooth or wired speaker. You will want to check on the position of the speaker to avoid possibility of feedback – but generally if you face the speaker away from the mics it should be good. Speakers will have a rating in Watts – a general rule would be 1W for every participant in the room. 50 folk in the room you want a 50W output to fill that space.
How do we see everyone in the room?
Don’t rely on the built in camera on a laptop. USB webcams will provide a very good Hi-Definition image. Have the webcam on a tripod or mount that can be swiveled round to view the current speaker.
OBSBot have excellent mini PTZ cameras – I use an OBSBOT Tiny 1st Gen 1080p for church meetings – with up to thirty or so participant in the room – as well as great video it has an excellent built in mic
For a larger meeting you might consider a PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) camera which can be moved smoothly, or multiple (HDMI) cameras through a video switcher such as the ATEM Mini. (We have a Zowietek 30x Zoom PTZ at one of the churches here.)
How do we see everyone online?
Connect the laptop HDMI output to one or more (through an HDMI splitter) projectors or monitors to enable that all can see online speakers.
In Zoom there are a number of settings to consider for hybrid meetings. Other platforms will have similar options.
Enable dual screen – will give you a secondary output showing just the current (or spotlighted) speaker – which is nice and clean without the chat/ participant list, or toolbars showing on screen
There is a setting to enable Hi-Definition video for all participants which if the broadband will allow would be good to enable.
Do check out the audio settings thoroughly particularly is sharing music – Zoom’s noise cancellation is very good – but it’s easy to have lots of feedback
There is much more…
that could be said about Hybrid, why it’s good, how to effect it, how to make meetings more engaging and why hybrid is here to stay. Do comment… I sense that this is a post to revisit and revise… (Yep, revised February 2024!)
Hybrid is here to stay.
Embrace it, Invest in what it takes to make it work in your context, reflect on how to make meetings better, not because they are online or hybrid, but because they are the encounters that transform, progress and deliver.
Rev Donald McCorkindale
Updated: March 2022, February 2024
- Chad Littlefield at www.weand.me has some great free advice and tools to create engagement in online spaces.
- In the ITsForMinistry FaceBook Group (supporting this website) there have been some helpful hints and tips about setting up and facilitating hybrid meetings. www.facebook.com/groups/itsforministry