Blended / HybridVirtual Meetings
We have a new challenge as the world moves from virtual online meetings to live meetings. There are several "dots" to connect as I explore what these post-pandemic meetings will look like.
First, there continues to be a strong interest in live meetings that have a Q&A session. That has not gone away. If anything, the demand has increased because so many people have been restricted to the confines of their homes.
This article discusses the background and the why of Blended / Hybrid meetings.
Next, people have acquired the technical skills to attend virtual meetings and webinars. YouTube and Facebook provide both have "live" options and an archived library. Other virtual meeting platforms are Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, or Skype.
Many, if not most, people have acquired the skills to present or host meetings with those tools. Granted, there are different levels of skill and resources. The quality of these presentations varies from horrible to great. But everyone is learning, and the audience is forgiving.
I've been thinking about blended meetings since last summer! (58-second video - Aug 2020) The video was intended as a proof-of-concept. The video is poor and the audio horrible, but it does show the potential of doing this.
Tampa Bay Technology Center
This week I have been immersed in how to support live meetings that have a virtual meeting component. I attended a workshop held by the Tampa Bay Technology Center (TBTC) and picked up two vocabulary words:
- InRoom participants
- OnLine participants
The speaker, Mark Katz, discussed how his international organization puts on workshops with a team of six technical people. Katz applies the same diligence for his OnLine presentations as he did for his InRoom sessions. Katz pointed out a counter-argument about the global reach of virtual meetings. He said that the audience, on the other hand, is looking for the best presentation! My take-away is that you gotta be good! It is no longer enough to build it and "expect them to come."
Another vocabulary word is needed to describe the combined live and virtual meetings/workshops. I personally like the word "blended" which comes from an academic environment, but the rest of the world seems to use "hybrid."
(Pinellas Genealogy Society)
The PGS has a close relationship with the Largo (Florida) library. The library hosted 5-10 genealogy classes and special interest groups per month in different meeting rooms throughout their facility. In March 2020, the pandemic completely closed the library. Even when the library partially opened, live meetings were discouraged.
The library is considering re-opening the meeting rooms this fall. I am the PGS Technology Director, and it will be my job to advise the PGS Board about the challenges of blended meetings.
First: Yes or No?
The first question is whether we should host online classes and special interest group meetings (SIGs).
For PGS, I believe we should continue virtual meetings, for several reasons:
- We have paid members who, for the first time, are able to attend meetings.
- We have some members who are "snowbirds." That is a Florida phenomenon that describes part-time residents who come south during the winter.
- Some members are unable to attend for something as simple as being unwilling to drive at night.
- We now have participants from across the country. We have had participants from California to Canada to New England. These participants return for more classes, which means PGS is doing something right.
- PGS classes, SIGs, and monthly Member meetings have always been free. This is part of our agreement with the Library. It provides the facilities without charge, and we provide speakers without fees. Because of our new online/virtual events, PGS is getting new members (dues are only $17/year) who may never attend a live event.
- Several of our SIG attendees like having the screens visible on their own laptops as the leader talks about different features.
- The OnLine people need to see whatever is being presented (usually slides)
- The OnLine people need to hear everything
- The InRoom people need to respect the attendance and participation of the OnLine attendees
- A zoom "Pro" account runs $200/year. PGS is already paying that and expects to do so in the foreseeable future.
- $200-$400 one-time expense
- $100-$125 for an external webcam and tripod. I made this video with a webcam set up in the back of a meeting room.
- $50-$200 for sound equipment. Poor video can be forgiven, but poor audio cannot.
- $30 for additional cables
- TV: this asset is still under consideration. A 65-inch or 70-inch TV placed in the front of the room could give the InRoom attendees a view of the OnLine participants.($400-$700)
- Laptop: An organization should have available a laptop or two to dedicate to blended meetings. PGS volunteer techs and officers will generously share that asset.
In the beginning, a blended meeting can be handled by a single admin, but preferably a team of two (host & co-host).
At the TBTC virtual meeting, Katz pointed out that each member of his technical team has a different responsibility. Some monitor the audience. Some provide support to attendees in private chat sessions. BTW, Katz was hosting paid blended meetings for several hundred participants. He has justification and money.
Most organizations would not have the budget to hire technical support. In another article, I will list responsibilities and explain how they can be divided up.
The first consideration is the size of the event, followed closely by the reason for the event.
PGS has three types of events, and I will address how to blend each one in the next section:
- Size 25-50
- Agenda: Presentation, Q&A
- Location: one or more small meeting room in Jenkins wing
- SIGs (Special Interest Groups)
- Size 25
- Agenda: Entire meeting is Q&A
- Small meeting room (Local History Room in Largo library)
- Member Meetings
- Size 40-80
- Agenda: Business, Presentation, Q&A
- Location: All the Jenkins meeting rooms combined
- Top Online Meeting Software to Know
- As We Go Back to Work, Don't Do Blended Meetings (July, 2020)
- Blended conferences - current technologies may transform meetings and events (2002 !!)
- Challenges of Virtual and Blended Meetings (2011 !)
- What are hybrid meetings? Why should you prepare your offices for them? (Nov 2020)
- How To Host A Hybrid Event With Zoom? (Jan 2021)