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Tips for Hosting a Hybrid Online and In-Person Meeting

In March of 2020 many professionals increasingly turned to virtual solutions to meet with colleagues, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As this was a new shift for most of us, the WHO/IBP Network published Going Virtual: Tips for Hosting an Effective Virtual Meeting

While the COVID-19 pandemic showed us the power and importance of virtual meetings to continue our essential work, it also reminded us how important face-to-face interactions are for networking and relationship building. Now that virtual meetings have become a routine part of our work, many have shifted their focus to hosting hybrid meetings, where some people are participating in-person and some join remotely. In this post, we explore the benefits and challenges of hosting a hybrid meeting as well as our tips for hosting an effective hybrid meeting.

Benefits and Challenges of Hosting a Hybrid Meeting

Hosting an effective hybrid meeting requires forethought and careful planning by the hosts—even more so than planning a completely virtual or an entirely in-person meeting. Some may say it’s double the work since, in essence, event organizers need to think through both virtual and in-person participation. This can require additional costs and staff time for planning and implementation. 

It can be a challenge to accommodate the needs of two different types of audiences. This includes handling connection issues and making sure questions and contributions of remote participants are taken into consideration. If these aspects are not thought through, there is a risk that the focus of the meeting will shift from the content to the technical logistics. That negatively impacts the experience for everyone. Finally, for virtual participants, hybrid meetings may limit the ability for informal networking (such as during coffee breaks in between sessions). Personally connecting with virtual participants, which often spurs collaboration and innovation, is also hampered. 

Despite the additional preparation, hybrid meetings offer a wealth of opportunities. For example, more participants may be available to attend the meeting given there are fewer associated costs, including:

  • Traveling to/from the venue.
  • Paying per diems.
  • In-person technology costs. 

Aside from reaching a larger audience in general, hosting a hybrid meeting may allow for a broader set of experiences or perspectives, with people from various geographies potentially in attendance. 

The first step in hosting a hybrid meeting is deciding if hybrid is the right format for your meeting. Some meetings may benefit from all in-person attendance or all virtual participation. We recommend that you select the format based on the objectives of the meeting and the expected attendees. Be realistic about what will be feasible to achieve with the format selected.

If you’ve decided to host a hybrid meeting, we recommend implementing the following practices before, during, and after the session. 

Tips for Hosting a Hybrid Meeting

Before

Carefully consider what time and date the meeting will be held

a close up of a calendarTake into consideration the different time zones where participants will be attending from. Keep in mind that a hybrid meeting may mean some attendees may be attending outside of normal work hours. This includes days that may not be ideal for them given national or cultural holidays. Try to select the most convenient time for as many participants as possible. We recommend using a tool such as the World Clock Meeting Planner to visualize and select the most convenient time across time zones and regions.

Consider internet bandwidth of participants

Provide an internet stipend for those joining remotely, if possible. Virtual meetings require a strong and stable internet connection for participants to fully participate and benefit from the content being shared. An internet stipend will support virtual participants to use their web cameras to fully engage with others and participate in discussions without dropping off. This is an especially important consideration if participants are expected to join outside of normal work hours when they may not be in their office.

Share the same background information with all participants

This may include creating an online version of the agenda and worksheets that will be physically handed out at the meeting. Ideally, share all of the same information and resources with participants before the meeting begins so everyone has the same background information.

Provide clear and easy-to-understand instructions

Tell remote participants how to connect to the meeting to help avoid late joiners.

Clearly identify roles before the meeting, including identifying an in-person remote participant advocate

a graphic of 10 human figures. All are the color black except for one, which is redThis will ensure virtual attendees are fully able to participate. The advocate’s responsibilities should include letting the in-person facilitator know if a remote participant has their hand raised or if they’ve added a comment to the chat. It’s common for discussions to naturally flow among in-person participants. Unless there is careful moderation of remote participants’ involvement, their contributions may be inadvertently left out. In addition, someone should be tasked with handling and responding to any technical or connection issues among remote participants.

Implement a buddy system

Pair a remote participant with an in-person participant before the event begins. Let each individual know who their buddy is before the event begins. Encourage them to exchange information to ensure they have a way to communicate privately with one another during the meeting. This is handy in case the remote participant needs technical support or “in-room” support. For example, the in-person buddy may add a post-it to a brainstorm wall for the remote participant, or perhaps the remote participant needs the in-person participant to repeat what the facilitator said.

Think through each activity

an illuminated light bulb set against a dark backgroundDiscuss how in-person participants will be expected to interact with remote participants during each activity. For example, if you will be hosting breakout rooms, will those participating virtually be in a separate breakout room while in-person participants are in another breakout room? Will the breakouts be mixed?

Create a “run of show” document

Share it with the event staff prior to the meeting. The document should clearly articulate the roles of each individual involved and what needs to happen at what time throughout the event.

During

Ensure that all participants can see one another

  • Remote participants should be able to see the in-person participants. This will likely require an additional camera/laptop set up at the front of the room to allow remote participants to see the in-person attendees. While they may not be able to see their faces, seeing the room will help remote participants fully participate in the meeting and feel included. If this is not possible, the host should share a summary of everyone in attendance (both remotely and in-person) at the beginning of the event.
  • In-person participants should be able to see the remote participants. We recommend having two large screens at the front of the room—one to display the presentation (that will also be screen-shared with the remote participants) and another screen to display the faces of those participating virtually. This will serve as a visual reminder that there are remote participants and make their presence and participation in the meeting more inclusive.

Remind everyone to state their name before speaking

This will help remote and in-person attendees follow the conversation in the event that they cannot see the individual who is speaking. 

Remote participants should have the ability to mute and unmute themselves

This will allow them to fully participate in the discussions. However, the host should also have the ability to mute remote participants if needed.

Use tools that everyone has access to

For example, if you’re doing an interactive brainstorming activity, have everyone use virtual software like Mural or Virtual Post-its in Google slides. This is preferable to having in-person participants use physical Post-its that the remote participants will not be able to read. However, this means that in-person attendees would also need to have computers available to them.

After

Follow-up with participants

After the session, thank those who joined and share the meeting recording, the slides, and/or a summary recap of what was discussed. If possible, provide a certificate of participation.

Evaluate the meeting

As we all venture into hosting hybrid meetings more often, we recommend taking this opportunity to learn from these events. Circulate a post-meeting evaluation to collect input on what went well and what could be improved for the next hybrid meeting.

Share your lessons learned and tips for hosting a hybrid meeting

A laptop with a blue screen. Dozens of illustrated envelopes scatter from it. We can all learn from these experiences to implement efficient and effective meetings to strengthen our work in family planning and reproductive health.

Want more information on remote facilitation? Explore the FP insight collection.

Ados Velez May

Senior Technical Advisor, IBP, World Health Org

Ados is a Senior Technical Advisor at the IBP Network Secretariat. In that role, Ados provides technical leadership engaging the network member organizations on a variety of issues such as documenting effective practices in family planning, dissemination of high-impact practices (HIPs), and knowledge management. Prior to IBP, Ados was based in Johannesburg, as a regional advisor for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, supporting a number of member organizations in Southern Africa. He has over 20 years of experience in international public health program design, technical assistance, management, and capacity building, focusing on HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health.

Nandita Thatte

IBP Network Lead, World Health Organization

Nandita Thatte leads the IBP Network housed at the World Health Organization in the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research. Her current portfolio includes institutionalizing the role of IBP to support the dissemination and use of evidence-based interventions and guidelines, to strengthen the linkages between IBP field-based partners and WHO researchers to inform implementation research agendas and foster collaboration among the 80+ IBP member organizations. Prior to joining WHO, Nandita was a Senior Advisor in the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at USAID where she designed, managed, and evaluated programs in West Africa, Haiti and Mozambique. Nandita has a MPH from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and a DrPH in Prevention and Community Health from the George Washington University School of Public Health.

Carolin Ekman

Communications and Knowledge Management, IBP Network

Carolin Ekman works for the IBP Network Secretariat, where her main focus is on communications, social media and knowledge management. She has been leading the development of the IBP Community Platform; manages content for the network; and is involved in various projects related to storytelling, strategy and rebranding of IBP. With 12 years across the UN system, NGOs and the private sector, Carolin has a multidisciplinary understanding of SRHR and its wider impact on wellbeing and sustainable development. Her experience spans across external/internal communications; advocacy; public/private partnerships; corporate responsibility; and M&E. Focus areas include family planning; adolescent health; social norms; FGM; child marriage; and honour based violence. Carolin holds a MSc in Media Technology/Journalism from the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, as well as a MSc in Marketing from Stockholm University, Sweden, and has also studied human rights, development and CSR in Australia and Switzerland.

Anne Ballard Sara, MPH

Senior Program Officer, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Anne Ballard Sara is a Program Officer II at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, where she supports knowledge management research activities, field programs, and communications. Her background in public health includes behavior change communication, family planning, women’s empowerment, and research. Anne served as a health volunteer in the Peace Corps in Guatemala and holds a Master of Public Health from George Washington University.

Sarah V. Harlan

Partnerships Team Lead, Knowledge SUCCESS, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Sarah V. Harlan, MPH, has been a champion of global reproductive health and family planning for nearly two decades. She is currently the partnerships team lead for the Knowledge SUCCESS project at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. Her particular technical interests include Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) and increasing access to longer-acting contraceptive methods. She is a co-founder of the Family Planning Voices storytelling initiative (2015-2020) and a co-author of several how-to guides, including Building Better Programs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Knowledge Management in Global Health.

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