Top Tips for Running Hybrid Workshops

Not that long ago, running an online workshop was considered a poor second to an in-person event. However, the pandemic gave us no option but to take workshops online, and in the process, we developed ways to make remote meetings fun, productive and engaging.

For a while we thought mastering online workshops was the height of facilitation in a post-pandemic world, but now that life is getting back to normal—or normal-ish—we are faced with a new challenge. How do we run effective workshops where some people are in the room, and some people are dialing in remotely? These hybrid workshops are forcing us to re-think how we facilitate effective sessions using the best of both worlds.

What’s the challenge?
The challenge with hybrid sessions is that no two workshops will have the same set-up. In some cases, you will be facilitating a session in-the-room, with the majority of participants sitting there with you. Sometimes the online participants will be dialing in from a range of different locations, whereas other times, they will be sitting together in a satellite office. Some hybrid sessions will see most participants online, with just a few sharing your in-person space. And there’s always the possibility that you—as the facilitator—will be the one dialing in.

Hybrid workshops take on many different forms, so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to doing them well. Instead, you need to consider the make-up of your particular session, and develop strategies that will help people feel connected, included and engaged. Check out our top things to consider when shaping up your hybrid session:

1. Make space for online small talk.
Make sure you have someone in-the-room (a Roomer) sitting at the laptop to greet online participants as they arrive. This is especially important if online participants (Zoomers) are the minority. If appropriate, walk the laptop around so that Zoomers can make small talk with Roomers before the meeting starts. Only connect the laptop to a big screen once the workshop is due to kick off.

2. Watch where you aim the camera.
If you’re going to have your Zoomers on a big screen, make sure that the camera is pointed from the screen—not from the in-room laptop. That way, when the Roomers are talking, it’s easy for Zoomers to make eye contact. If you use the camera on the laptop, but then project the Zoom call onto an opposite wall, in-room participants naturally look at the screen. This leaves Zoomers looking at the back of heads or the inside of ears!

3. Use a wide-view camera.
If possible, have any big screen and camera stationed at the back of the room, looking directly at you—the facilitator. By using a wide view camera, online participants will be able to see you, as well as other participants in the room. The big screen will act as a physical seat at the table for those online.

4. Use several in-room laptops.
If you have several people taking part remotely, consider giving each remote participant a seat at the table—each with their own lap top screen. The laptop cameras will all be facing in different directions, giving online participants a chance to view different parts of the room. If the multiple views become unhelpful or disruptive, simply turn the video off for that laptop.

5. Mute in-room laptops.
If you are using multiple laptops in the room, mute the laptop microphone and use a conference call microphone/speaker instead. This will stop echoing and distorted sound and ensures online participants can hear all the conversation. If you rely solely on a laptop microphone/s, it is often difficult for Zoomers to catch informal comments that can help give a discussion tone, nuance and context.

6. Ask Zoomers to signal they want to speak.
It’s fairly easy for in-the-room participants to sense where there’s a gap and jump in with their comments and questions. However, online participants find it much harder to grab the space. Let online participants know to raise their hand (or make some other signal) if they have something to add—and then deliberately invite them into the conversation by name.

7. Avoid leaving Zoomers to last.
Depending on the room set-up, it’s easy to treat the Roomers as the main group and Zoomers as ‘the ones who couldn’t really make it’. This often shows up by calling on the Roomers for comment first, then going to online participants last. Be intentional about mixing this up, so that Zoomers don’t feel like an after-thought for every conversation.

8. Mix up the breakout groups.
When breaking into small groups, have at least one person from the room, sit in as part of the online discussion. If necessary, take the laptop into a separate room so that the sound isn’t disrupted by (or disruptive to) other groups.

9. Have Zoomers do non-digital tasks too.
As much as possible, have online participants do non-digital tasks in the same way as people in the room. For example, ask them to write on a post-it note and hold it up to the screen. Someone in the room can then ‘virtually’ take the note, by rewriting it and adding it to the in-room flipchart. To help Zoomers feel even more included, consider sending out a workshop kit with post-it notes, felt pens and chocolate ahead of time. Make sure that whatever the Roomers have, Zoomers have too.

10. Have an Online Facilitator in-the-room.
Have an in-the-room colleague act as an online facilitator to help with things like sharing handouts, placing participants into groups, or recording discussions on an online whiteboard. Depending on the workshop, you could even run two separate meetings simultaneously. Start as one group to set the scene, then break into two sessions—one online and one in the room. Come back at the end to merge ideas and wrap everything up.

11. Share documents well.
Consider the best way to share slides or handouts with your online participants. Will you email the documents ahead of time and ask online participants to print a hard copy to follow along with? Will your second facilitator share relevant documents on the screen as you go along? Just be mindful that if you are sharing a screen, online participants will loose connection with faces. What works best will depend on the workshop and the material that needs to be shared.

12. Provide clear instructions and expectations.
Hybrid workshops are still relatively new and different workplaces run them in different ways. So, once you have worked out your agenda and workshop logistics, make sure everyone knows what to expect—and what they need to have on hand—before they arrive. It can be helpful to send a pre-workshop email with relevant links, attachments and instructions all in one place. If necessary, make sure people know how to access technology help before the workshop starts, so that everyone is comfortable using the platform tools.

13. Consider Hybrid Sessions as the third way.
Hybrid sessions are still relatively new, so it’s tempting to think of them as either an in-room session with some extra participants dialing in—or an online session, where a few people happen to be sharing the same physical space. This kind of thinking means we will sub-consciously favour one group of participants over another, and by default, design the workshop with that group in mind.

This might make sense when there is a clear majority in one space or the other, but what happens if there is the same number of participants online, as there are in the room? In these cases, it’s important we start thinking about Hybrid Sessions as the Third Way, and deliberately develop workshops with a hybrid methodology in mind.

What that looks like, I’m still not sure. But the more we engage in hybrid conversations, the more tools and techniques we will develop. Let us know what tools are working for you!

Kerri Price
Kerri is a professional facilitator with over 20 years experience in facilitation roles. She is the founder of The Facilitators Network and regularly facilitates workshops on Facilitation and Building a Facilitation Business. If you need someone to facilitate an Idea Jam for your business, organisation or community, get in touch.

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