I get quite a few invitations for workshops on facilitating hybrid sessions. Hybrid sessions are with a group in the room and a few (or many!) online. During our blended learning course in collaboration with Kessels and Smit Belgium we experimented quite a bit: with methods do I use in a hybrid session? engaging participants in different ways and different setups from everyone online on the beamer to 'heads on a laptop'. It is really not easy. I think I have 3 sessions I felt good about, all the others left me really puzzled. What do you need to successfully guide a hybrid session? In this blog I will discuss the competencies of the hybrid trainer or process facilitator.
Don't underestimate the challenge of hybrid
After several hybrid sessions, I have learned that you should certainly not underestimate what hybrid demand from the facilitator. However, not only the facilitator is challenged: it demands a lot from everyone: the online participants and the participants in the room. At one of the first sessions I started out hopeful with the following quote:
After 4-5 meeting I my perception changed. Live and online have their advantages from the point of view of the facilitator. In a live session you can focus on the room and the energy in the room. During an online session, you can conveniently use the chat or other online tools. With hybrid sessions, however, you can't use either benefit. It is a new form that demands that the facilitator is a sort of centipede. The facililtator must divide attention across the room and online. This feels like you should have eyes in your back. You are also highly dependent on technology. In one hybrid session, I was so busy getting everything right that I couldn't chat informally with the participants before the start of the session. This felt like a real loss because I like to start building connections before the session.
"A good hybrid session combines the best of both world: online and live"
"For some in the room it is quite demanding to be a buddy with an online person. You have to pay more attention to the chat and the screen and multitasking. Others find it very easy and have fun"Hybrid sessions demand a lot from participants and you have to manage that as a facilitator. A hybrid session is exhausting for the people who participate online. Perhaps the sound not 100%. You often don't know whether or not you can break in to ask a question. But discussion may also feel less spontaneous for people in the room. When you agree to raise your hand, it feels like school. People online may request that people in the room don't touch papers or coffee cups for the noise. All this may cause the fun to wear off, and you as the facilitator have to deal with all these deceptions.
Competencies of the hybrid facilitatorNot every facilitator and teacher is looking forward to hybrid... With the pandemic they learned to work online, and they are happy with another new thing. And they are right! It's not easy. However, I do think hybrid is here to stay. So sooner or later you will have to embrace hybrid. You better start getting good at it.
- Choose the right technical set-up
- Organize collaboration
- Design your session with hybrid methods (and elaborating it in a script)
- Facilitate with an eye for the needs of the room and online
1. Choose the right technical set-up
There are different ways of organizing the technical set up. Do you work with your own equipment, for example speakerphones or a meeting owl? Then you probably already know how it works. Sometimes you have to work with the (unfamiliar to you) technical set-up in a room. Are you satisfied with the equipment? Do you have enough time to test it or test it beforehand?
We distinguish three different main setups:
- onliners on the beamer
- laptop heads (see photo)
- everyone behind the laptop and log in.
2. Organize collaboration
I regularly facilitate hybrid meetings with a facilitator. An online and a live facilitator. In the collaboration with Belgium, participants had the choice to participate in Antwerp, Utrecht or online. We even had 3 facilitators.
“A hybrid session requires multiple roles”
In a hybrid session there are extra tasks compared to a 'normal' live session. Think of monitoring the online group, making sure there are breakouts, walking around with laptops. It is nice if you can divide these tasks amongst various persons. If you do not have the luxury to have a co-facililtator, you can appoint an online contact person. Or work with buddies between people in the room and online. In universities there is sometimes a student assistant who helps with the online group.
Do you have the luxury of having a co-facilitator? If one is online and one in the room it works perfect. It is even nicer if the online facilitator is at a location close by, for example a room adjacent to the group. It allows you to set up the room together and quickly tune in during the break. Also think about how you will work together during the session. Do you call each other during the break or do you text each other?
3. Design your session with hybrid methods
Facilitators and trainers are very strong in methods. You can translate almost any method into a hybrids version. However, you need to keep an eye at the overall balance of working separately (the onliners together and the people in the room together) and joint.
Questions to consider are: if you are going to work in groups, are you going to mix? And if so, how do you ensure that there are no annoying loud beeps (tip: create breakout groups)? This also requires experience.
Are you a starter? Work in two different groups: the people in the room and the onliners. It is easier for both groups because they can ignore the others. You have to make a very detailled scripts. An example of a detail: who will mute the online group if they start working together? What do we do during the breaks? Pay attention to the nitty gritty.
4. Facilitate with an eye for the needs of the room and online
You have your session script. Now the day itself. You are probably in the room. Always keep the people in the room and online in mind. It helps if the onliners are also clearly visible. If you work with an online facilitator you can occasionally switch to your co-facilitator.
"If you participate online, it's nice if you have an overview of the room"
Make sure the technical setup and etiquette are clear at the start. Do you want onliners to raise their hands? Can they break in the discussions if they want to say something? Where do you position yourself? Regularly check everyone. Is the sound still good? Do you need an extra break?
Sometimes everything is set... and something interferes with your solid plan. Your co-facilitator has COVID and now you have to set things up alone. You want to use the chat but that produces a ping sound, annoying people. You have so much experience with your own speakerphones but the bluetooth is on and they connect to two computers. You instruct people to raise hands, but the participants don't like this and get rebellious... There is a birthday cake in the room and the people who are present don't care for the people online. This requires a lot of improvisation. It helps to see hybrid as a great new challenge. Go for it!