The COVID-19 pandemic has driven many changes to traditional Toastmasters meetings, hasn’t it? One of those is clearly the ubiquity of Zoom meetings, at the club, District, and even the International Convention levels.
As some parts of the world return to varying degrees of safe public contact, it’s likely that more clubs will move to hybrid meetings, welcoming both in-person and online attendees.
Obviously, a hybrid meeting requires additional technology, including a screen, a computer, and cameras. You will need to learn how to bridge in-person and online meetings with the right technology setup.
Beyond technical considerations, are hybrid meetings different from fully on-site or fully online meetings? Yes. Do meeting roles look different now? Maybe. There are limitations on some, but the essentials are basically the same.
There are two traditional meeting roles impacted by the hybrid environment.
The first is the timer. If the timer is in the room and the online member is speaking in a timed situation, such as Table Topics®, be sure the speaker can see the timing signals. At Sunday Brunch Toastmasters in Turner, Australia, the timer was not originally visible to me, yet before long, she repositioned herself so that I could see the light. I found this club has a great awareness of the online experience.
At Roadmasters of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the timer was online. In this meeting, a TV screen was behind the lectern, and none of the speakers could see it. The club solved that situation by having a second person with the physical timing light mirroring the timer’s signal.
The second role that might involve some adjustment is the speech evaluator. This role holder can report from anywhere; however, an issue may come into play when there is an in-house speaker and an online evaluator. If the speaker intentionally or unintentionally moves away from the lectern, the evaluator cannot fully assess the visual presentation. This is a consideration for me because I love a big stage and see it as a huge visual aid.
It’s likely that more clubs will move to hybrid meetings.
Also, the speaker might be too far from the microphone to be clearly heard. If, on the other hand, the speaker stays at the lectern, depending on the camera placement, some of their body language might be hidden from view. Either way, the speaker could lose some valuable feedback. For these reasons, for an onsite speaker, the speech evaluator should also be onsite.
The hybrid format has created the need for some new meeting roles. Ahead of the Curve Toastmasters in Las Vegas, Nevada, has a person specifically designated to monitor the online experience—making sure that onsite speakers are in the stage boundaries, for example. It can also be a person who is designated to be online that day in a role akin to the General Evaluator.
A good hybrid experience also requires a tech master to handle the setup. Be sure to have a backup for this role, or written instructions, in case the person responsible for tech is absent.
However, a club may opt to give greater priority to the in-person experience, in which case the roles are essentially the same as an in-person meeting. The onliners just have to hang on and pick up as much as they can. However, this approach will likely significantly decrease the number of online attendees. Regardless of format, the meeting experience must juggle the needs of both online and in-person attendees. That requires thoughtful meeting adaptions that work best for your club.
One final consideration is when should the Vice President Membership (VPM) talk to visitors? Before the meeting? After the meeting? At Cloud Peak Toastmasters Club in Sheridan, Wyoming, the club has a two-minute, mid-meeting break. What a perfect time for the VPM to touch base.
Hybrid meetings aren’t for everyone, but they do introduce an additional dimension to the typical Toastmasters meeting. Speaking and leading in a hybrid world will be an increasingly important business skill—one that may be very valuable to you. What better way than to learn and practice it than in your Toastmasters club?
Watch the video below for additional tips from Toastmaster Cajetan A. Barretto on setting your club up for hybrid meetings.
Bill Brown, DTM is a speech delivery coach in Gillette, Wyoming. He is a member of Energy Capital Toastmasters in Gillette. Learn more at billbrownspeechcoach.com.