Before the pandemic hit, one of my worst training nightmares was to have a split crowd – meaning that some of the participants sat in the classroom with me while others joined virtually. Fortunately, the pandemic helped us find ways to make hybrid training events enjoyable both for trainers and participants. Here are some of our best tips on combining live and virtual training into hybrid training.
Previously, splitting my attention between these two groups with very different needs often meant that I had the constant nagging feeling that I was overlooking one group or the other.
But things are different now. Organisations have now had to find their way to manage virtual meetings, establish common rules – and ultimately to come to terms with the fact that virtual participation is not all sweet and beautiful. The same is true for me and my colleagues at the Business Technology Academy.
After some initial hesitation about combining classroom and online participants, we focused on how to make hybrid training the best it could be. Here are some of the challenges of hybrid events and some thoughts on how to tackle them.
1. Make sure everyone gets champagne
When you are flying in economy class, you will see champagne being served in business class by friendly, smiling staff. Technically, you are on the same flight, but your experience is not equal. In training terms, if you are looking at a virtually share presentation, but can’t hear the jokes being told, or the questions being asked, then you are getting flat Diet Cola instead of champagne.
One of the principles we followed in planning our hybrid events was to do all we can to ensure that participants feel equal. This meant that virtual participants would have the same possibilities to participate in the training as the people in the classroom, and also feel they were in 1st class along with the rest of the group.
2. Create a feeling of belonging
In hybrid events, a very important part is ensuring the participants feel like they are part of the same group with the classroom participants. The essential basic requirement is that people online can see and hear the people in the classroom and vice-versa.
The attention of the coaches and presenters also needs to be balanced. The coaches need to direct the same energy and attention towards the video camera as they would direct towards a person in the classroom.
What separates the good and the great training events is the unplanned parts: the questions, discussions, observations, shared stories, jokes (good and bad), and even painful memories. Make sure that people online don’t miss out on these.
3. Check that your AV quality is up to modern standards
Poor audio is the scourge of hybrid training events. We’ve all been there: straining to hear what is being said from the midst of a mix of buzzes, hisses, and background noises.
The all too familiar solution is to place a single clunky conference phone in the middle of the training space and then forget about it – and so effectively ruin the audio experience for all virtual participants. This may have been acceptable in the 90s, but there are better solutions available nowadays.
Separate professional microphones will help reduce the cacophony. When a virtual participant can hear everything without straining, it lets them focus on what is important and save energy.
Naturally, getting the high-quality audio all the way from the classroom to the ears of the virtual participant depends on a chain of technology consisting of the microphone, virtual meeting service, network connection and even the earphones of the participant. A smart move is to check in advance that this chain works to prevent any nasty surprises.
4. Offer different perspectives, literally
Having a high-quality video camera does not mean you can’t film boring content with it. The same goes for the video transmitted from the classroom.
Ideally, there are several cameras in the classroom and many of them should be movable. Using different shots and angles of the classroom and people will help break the monotony for online participants. Even adding video from a handheld mobile camera can bring new perspectives on what is going on. Having several camera feeds requires either somebody to act as director, or alternatively buying a camera solution that has in-built intelligent camera control.
The point is not to make the event a visual circus. Finding a good balance through trial and error is key.
Hybrid training events are the way of the future
In the new normal, there is a need for both virtual and classroom participation.
For some participants, having face-to-face contact will be the most important part of a virtual training session. Just getting out of the house and seeing new people might be the most important thing. Admittedly, networking and having informal side conversations during breaks is just easier when you are face to face.
For others, the possibility to join virtually might be the only viable one. Their family situation, risks in the environment or just personal preference might all be deciding factors.
In a hybrid event, everybody can participate in the best way possible and in the process enrichen the experience for everybody. Naturally, a lot of hard work and skill is required to make a hybrid event successful, but when all the pieces fit together, the experience is something truly special.
If all of this sounds like too much work, there is of course the option to let a professional handle it all for you. If you would like to have a hybrid training tailored to suit the needs of your organisation, we can help! See more about our tailored training offering here – and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have something specific in mind.
Thomas Hughes is a Senior Advisor at the Business Technology Academy. He has extensive experience in coaching organisations toward their transformation goals effectively.