Hybrid meetings, which combine on-site and remote webconference audiences in a single event, are an increasingly popular format for many medical meetings. With proper execution, hybrid meetings can deliver the immediacy of a face-to-face meeting with the convenience and cost savings of a Web-based event. But, because hybrid meetings are complex, they require thoughtful planning to address various potential points of failure. Here are some of the best practices we’ve identified from the medical industry’s nearly decade-long experience working with hybrid formats.

1. Plan intensively: Every meeting requires solid planning to succeed, but hybrid meetings require three times the planning of a standard event. You have to plan first for the on-site audience, second for the webconference audience, and also include a third layer of planning to synchronize between the two groups. Hybrid meetings are fundamentally different and require different scripting, media preparation, and interactive planning. Meeting planners must take the lead in urging all parties to think differently and prepare differently for hybrid meetings. Without comprehensive and coordinated planning, hybrid meetings can quickly deteriorate, with a minor glitch in one area throwing off the flow of the entire event.

2. Be daring, not boring: It pays to make aggressive use of meeting elements so your hybrid meeting achieves a high level of audience interest. While it’s always important to take measures to maintain a brisk pace and convey a sense of excitement, it’s especially vital when you have remote attendees. Poorly planned hybrid meetings can bog down in process or simply fail to include elements that add interest. To avoid being boring, be sure to make full use of multimedia and interactive tools such as live video, mark-ups, and group interaction. While it is possible to overuse these elements, that rarely happens. Strive for a mix that’s consistently stimulating.

3. Be visually dynamic: Too many hybrid meetings are visually dull, showing static slides on the screen, one after the other. Hybrid meeting’s must liven it up visually with an array of user-friendly multimedia, starting with live video of presenters and panels. You can enliven slide sets with bullet-point builds, arrow pointers, simple animations, and pre-animated highlights and underlines. If possible, incorporate elements such as recorded video and animation, and screen sharing, in which a presenter leads the audience though documents and other material. To organize multimedia elements, it’s useful to create a per-slide “storyboard” of planned multimedia effects.

4. Involve the audience: To succeed, hybrid meetings must engage the intelligence of all medical professionals in attendance, especially those participating remotely. Interactive elements must accompany slide presentations to prevent a hybrid meeting from devolving into a passive and ineffective experience. Fortunately, most webconference platforms include features that support audience involvement, such as polling and chat. Audience polling is a popular tool that invites participants to respond to multiple-choice questions, with instant display of group results. Skilled use of polling creates a positive group dynamic in which everyone has a voice. Many webconference platforms support a chat feature that allows attendees to submit comments or questions by text; this can be used for open or structured responses. For both polling and chat, it’s important to carefully plan so activities are harmonized among on-site and remote attendees.

5. Favor remote audiences: It’s common for things to happen at the on-site meeting that don’t make sense to remote audiences, such as side discussions and off-screen visual references. Avoid this: It reinforces the impression among remote audiences that they’re second-class meeting attendees. Hybrid meetings should be run with a bias for remote audiences, and managers need to set clear rules that discourage improvised behavior by on-site participants.

6. Script the event: Hybrid meetings require a detailed script with verbatim introductions, disclosures, and housekeeping notes. The script should incorporate a plan for interaction, with a steady mix of polling, text/chat, and Q&A. Also included should be a media plan that outlines the use of video cameras, recorded video, and animation sequences. All elements of the hybrid meeting, including the script, should be managed by a moderator who keeps the event proceeding seamlessly.

7. Downsize the agenda: Strive for a compact meeting agenda to hold the attention of remote participants. Presenters should be encouraged to downsize their slide sets, with an emphasis on brevity, focus, and clarity. Consider setting an agenda, with 33 percent less time for presenters and a limit on the number of slides per minute. Encourage presenters to use fewer text slides and more graphic slides, and follow the “6 by 6” rule (no more than six bullet points per slide and no more than six words per bullet.)

8. Conduct rehearsals: To work through technical issues and improve hybrid meeting quality, it’s a good idea to hold a rehearsal with all presenters. The rehearsal can include a slide review as well as a run-through of the script and all planned elements of the hybrid meeting. Busy medical professionals often resist the idea of a rehearsal, but in almost every case they appreciate the process once they go through it.

9. Coach presenters: Because audio clarity can be degraded for remote participants in a hybrid meeting, it’s important for presenters to slow down their pace and speak clearly to avoid taxing virtual attendees’ attentiveness by making them strain to hear. This is especially true for international conferences and multilingual audiences. Presenters need to be coached during rehearsal and reminded to slow down and speak clearly prior to the presentation, while the use of a “slow down” signal can also help overly energetic or nervous speakers during presentations. Hybrid meeting success can hinge on the very simple matter of getting presenters to speak slowly and deliberately.

10. Consolidate activities: A hybrid meeting is a single event, and it can suffer when separate teams plan the on-site and remote portions of the meeting. The on-site meeting room, for example, has to be managed both to accommodate in-room attendees and to support the technology for remote attendees. The most efficient approach for managing a hybrid event is to integrate the database, Web site, and webconference resources into a unified platform. Likewise, you can better serve meeting invitees/attendees by providing a single point of contact for event registration and information.

11. The right support: Hybrid medical meetings are often high-profile events, and a webconference platform used for internal company conferences may not be optimal. Your hybrid meeting may require a higher level of support that includes presenter orientation, media development, event moderation, on-site technicians, etc. A full-service provider can deliver such production services to ensure thorough preparation and smooth technical performance. A hybrid medical meeting may also warrant the support of a professional instructional designer, who can assist with interactive elements, build multimedia effects into slide sets, and contribute to a better experience for all meetings attendees.

12. Work the plan: These hybrid meeting best practices are easier to plan than they are to execute. Most presenters and meeting planners approach hybrid meetings as if they were the same as on-site meetings, which is a hard habit to break. A hybrid-meeting manager must develop the hybrid meeting plan using a clear set of best practices, and insist the plan be followed.

Bill Cooney founded Evanston, Ill.–based MedPoint Communications Inc. in 1990, and he continues to lead the provider of digital medical communications and information services (www.medpt.com). Contact him at bill.cooney@medpt.com.

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