Now that we have been through two years of a pandemic, remote meetings are here to stay. While most clients agree that in person meetings are different (and better) experience, there are good reasons to do advisory board meetings virtually, like when you have participants distributed over a wide geographic area. We might do short virtual get togethers between full blown advisory board meetings.
Hybrid meetings, with some participants physically in attendance and others joining remotely, are also here to stay. You may have a couple participants who are a great distance away or who may not yet feel comfortable getting together in larger groups. In cases like these, it is better to include them virtually than to lose them from the discussion.
Without specific preparations, however, these meetings can be a failure, especially for the remote participants. And if you lose them from the conversation, it can compromise the meeting overall.
If you will be doing one of these hybrid meetings there are some specific components and preparations to make them a success.
Audio quality will make or break the meeting – I have attended hundreds of remote meetings and conference calls. The worst part about them is how difficult it can be to hear what’s being said and to follow along the conversation. There are enough problems to make a discussion of them their own article: speaker is too far away from the microphone, participants speaking too softly, participants rustling papers or tapping the table next to the microphone.
Especially before zoom, planning meetings for advisory boards often happened using a conference phone. One client firm had a principal who, although he had a resonant voice, had a tendency to mumble. He would speak more and more quietly until I had to stop him and ask him to speak up. At which point he would begin the next sentence at a shout and be back down to a mumble by the end of the sentence. I use a headset to hear more clearly so the speaker would go from making my ears bleed to being unintelligible in a few seconds. Balancing where people sit and where you place microphones takes a little finesse.
Don’t rely on a microphone built into a laptop or a webcam. The best way to make sure everyone can be heard is to use multiple microphones and distribute them around the in-person participants. I use a series of inexpensive “puck” microphones placed around the table. No one is very far from a microphone.
Make participants easy to see – A checkerboard of people on a small computer screen looking at a wide angle shot of a conference room will not inspire engagement. Meet in a room with a large wall-mounted video screen. Leave the spot at the table closest to the large screen open so that the remote people have a place at the table. Use speaker mode on Zoom or similar function so that the remote person talking fills the screen. Adjust your webcam to get as tight a shot on your group as possible. If you will do this on an ongoing basis, consider investing in an Owl conference camera that spins around to zoom in on the speaker (but don’t rely on its microphones unless you are in a small space – see above). Or consider using a Zoom Room setup with the Smart Gallery function. It separates a view of multiple people into individual frames on a zoom screen.
Preparation is key –
- Test the system. Set all the equipment up exactly the way it will be for the meeting in the room you will use for the meeting and make sure all the technology works. Have coworkers or volunteers log in as participants. Have a sample discussion with different people in different parts of the room. I have been involved in meetings where adjusting the technology took the first 15 minutes of the meeting. In the rare instance, they gave up on bringing in remote participants. You want to have worked all the kinks out so that the meeting will run successfully and smoothly.
- Provide instructions – Before any meeting with remote participants, we send a “user guide” with tips on how to look good on teleconference. It offers tips like having the light source in front of you, having the camera near eye level, and being close enough to the lens to fill the screen. A better strategy is to meet with all remote participants in advance to help them get their camera settings adjusted.
- Test the system.
- Send preparatory materials – Even for meetings where everyone will be in person, we get consistent feedback that materials sent in advance for review make for a more productive meeting and more satisfied participants. They are even more important for meetings where there will be remote participants. Whatever you expect to hand out, send in advance. Whatever you plan on showing on the screen, consider sending it out, too.
- Did I mention test the system ahead of time?
Facilitation – Meetings with remote participants require more active facilitation than in-person meetings. Even an inexperienced facilitator can help produce a positive outcome for an in-person meeting. Balancing the needs of present and remote participants is more demanding. A competent facilitator will be attentive to making sure one person speaks at a time, will periodically check in with the remote participants, and will help assure that all attendees hear the conversation and participate.
Plan to have a tech host – Representatives of the firm should be involved in the conversation. The facilitator has enough responsibility managing the meeting. It is a good idea to have a separate person acting in the role of host for the remote attendees. They can let people in from the waiting room, monitor the chat box, respond to remote participants who have a problem.
Hybrid meetings offer an opportunity to include people whose input is valuable but who cannot attend a meeting in person. Take these extra steps to make sure remote participants are incorporated into the live meeting, and you can get the best of both in person and virtual meetings.
Planning on doing a meeting that is either partially or fully virtual? Download our free guide seven ideas to make your virtual client Advisory Board work. Get your free copy here.