Find out what you’re doing right and what you can do better in hybrid meetings in this interview with Emmy award-winning journalist Karin M. Reed.
About Karin Reed
Karin is the CEO of corporate communications training firm Speaker Dynamics. In her role, she has taught business professionals how to be effective on-camera communicators for nearly a decade. Karin has been featured in Inc. Magazine, Fast Company, and Business Insider, and has been named an “Author who Inspires Us” by McKinsey and Company.
Read the Transcript
Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am Allison Dunn, your host and executive coach. I’m very excited to introduce our guest today. We have with us, Karin. Karin Reed is a three-time author. She is an Emmy award winning journalist, a CEO of Speaker Dynamics and a two-time guest here on the Deliberate Leaders podcast. She is someone who is helping people speak through a webcam and realizing that it is a much-needed skill in this world today.
Karin has been teaching business leaders and professionals how to be effective in on-camera communications for nearly a decade. Today, we’re going to be discussing how to handle the hybrid, the new role of the meeting leader, and that is truly what we have become. Karin, thank you so much for joining us here today.
Karin: Alli, it’s great to be back. Thank you so much. I love hearing two-time guests, so I feel very honored.
Allison: My pleasure, my pleasure. I like to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. Could you share with us your number one leadership tip for our listeners?
Karin: Be authentic. That’s one of the things that I stress in any sort of communication period, but especially in on camera communication, because the camera exaggerates a lack of authenticity, and if you want to be somebody who resonates whenever you’re communicating through a webcam or leading a team through a webcam, you need to be authentically yourself.
Allison: I completely agree. I’m super excited that you’re going to share some strategies on how to actually be authentic in this hybrid leadership world that we’re having right now. So, can you share why hybrid meetings inevitably are the future of where we are heading with work?
Karin: Well, it’s just this state of the workforce today. You know, one of the things that people realized as a result of going fully virtual is that they appreciated flexibility, and so no longer is that considered a perk. It’s actually considered table stakes. People are saying I need to have a flexible work arrangement, and if they are not able to get at it at their current position, they’re looking for it elsewhere. So as a result of that, you can have people who are in the office, you can have people who are working from home, you can have people working from the corner coffee shop and you have to get all of them to be able to gather together and get business done in the same place. And the only way to do that is through a hybrid meeting.
Allison: Right. So, they’re hard, and I know that you are hopefully going to give us some tips on how we can do it better than we have been and how we need to do it differently going forward. Can you share some tips on that?
Karin: Absolutely, and we’ll start kind of from the leader perspective, because we do believe that the success of a hybrid meeting is something that is a shared responsibility of the leader, as well as the attendees. But what I can offer you is some promising news from the data that my co-author Dr. Joe Allen found for our book Suddenly Hybrid. He found that surprisingly, if you follow best practices, a hybrid meeting can actually be as satisfying and more participatory, actually have less bad meeting behavior like faking positivity, and people find it to be just more satisfying than any other meeting format. There’s a lot that can be taken from the data that says, yeah, we should invest our time into actually doing these right. So how do you conduct an effective hybrid meeting?
Well, the first thing as a leader to consider is that you need to be much more proactive as a facilitator in the actual meeting itself. A lot of leaders that I know like to have kind of a free-for-all of ideation and sharing of opinions. But if you try to do that in a hybrid setting, you often will have a two-tiered system develop, where the people who are in the physical conference room have great opportunity to speak up and share their thoughts, but those who are joining virtually have a hard time getting a word in edgewise.
So, it’s really important that as a meeting leader, you figure out some sort of turn taking policy, and then you actually make people adhere to it. So come up with what makes sense for your team culture, your organizational culture, and then make it clear what that is.
Do you want people to raise their hand, their physical hand? Do you want people to raise their emoji hand? Do you want them to put in chat that they have something to say? Let them know how to get in the conversation queue, and then make sure that you call on people by name so that everybody’s voice is heard and you don’t have, for example, Joe monologuing in the physical conference room and he’s basically taking all the air time.
Allison: Have you found a system that has worked as seamlessly as possible, what would that be?
Karin: Well, I think it has to be almost a multimodal way of participation, validating both non-verbal and verbal participation. Whenever you are joining remotely, it can be difficult to insert yourself into the dialogue. So being able to use chat like we did in our fully virtual lives is really a great practice to carry into the hybrid setting. However, it’s back to the whole idea of the leader being one who attends to that chat. You know, it makes no sense if people just put their thoughts, their comments, their questions into the chat, and nobody looks at it. Just becomes a parking lot, so it really is the responsibility of the meeting leader to look at that and then bring that into the dialogue that’s had by all.
Another technique that works really well is having a policy where remote speak first. For example, as a meeting leader, you’re working your way through the agenda. You get to a topic of discussion. If you are leading the meeting from within the physical conference room, rather than turning to your right and saying, Allie, why don’t you tell me what you think about it.
Instead, turn your attention to the monitor that contains the faces of those who are joining remotely and ask them to weigh in first. Because what that does is it gives them an opportunity to have their voices heard, but it also raises the collective awareness of the entire group of who is in the meeting. It’s not just those in the physical meeting space.
Allison: In the shift that we needed to make as the pandemic really kind of brought people into these not always in the office and sometimes virtually online, as a facilitator, it became very difficult to not only facilitate and lead well, but also then be the “technologist.
Allison: And the whole situation, have you found that leaders have amplified their skills to be able to be aware of who’s in front of them, and in addition to that, also then watch the chat and pick everything up?
Karin: It’s a lot.
Allison: Is there a perfect model that eliminates some of the stress the facilitator has to undergo?
Karin: Well, we would call it the cognitive burden, because not only is the leader perhaps the technologist, he or she may be the decision maker and the moderator of the discussion. I mean, they’re all of these different responsibilities that sometimes a leader feels that they need to take on. So what we advocate in Suddenly Hybrid is starting to think about creating new roles so that you can share some of that burden. For example, having a chat monitor is essential, especially if it’s a larger meeting. If you have a couple of people on the screen, you can kind of see people chiming in on chat. But if you have a larger meeting, say 7 to 10 people and beyond, you need to have somebody who can keep track of that chat and make you aware when comments are put into it, and have them have the responsibility of saying, hey, we actually have an interesting comment from Jill in the chat who says, da, da, da, da. So having a chat monitor is really important.
The other role that we suggest is creating a technology specialist who is the person who can handle the troubleshooting.
Allison: I’ve got one.
Karin: I do too. Absolutely. And the reason why you do that is you can have your entire meeting completely derailed because for some reason, somebody can’t get their microphone to work. So, what you can do is if you’re using your virtual meeting link, you can take those two people and put them in a breakout room and have them work on it outside of the meeting at large, so that you are able to continue to get business done. So that is really a great role.
The one more role that I would add that can help in terms of pulling out participation evenly is assigning in-room allies, or in-room buddies for those who are remote. Say for example, Allie, you’re going to be in the conference room with the meeting leader. I am joining it virtually. You would be my accountability partner, my advocate, my in-room buddy, who can basically keep on bringing me into the conversation. Keep on ensuring that I play an active role in that meeting itself, because it is easier if you are actually in close proximity to the person who’s leaving the meeting to get their attention than the person who is on the screen.
Those are just a couple of strategies that you can use to make sure that you don’t have that two-tiered system where those who are in the physical office have a little bit more opportunity to participate more fully than those who are joining virtually.
Allison: I love the idea of the in-room ally. I have attended a number of industry or community … I’m just going to call it out what it is. My Rotary Club did this hybrid version. We’d have our speaker in the room, we’d have our members in the room, and then people were attending through this virtual platform, and literally the whole meeting would happen. They’d never participate. They’d never say a word and then the meeting would end. It’d be like, okay, bye guys.
Karin: Yes, and that’s so unfortunate because then they’re just observers. And so, if you don’t have strategies to combat that proximity bias, then you’re going to have a decision that perhaps is not as optimized as it should be, because you’ll never have everybody’s opinion. So, it really is critical for leaders to recognize that and be pushing for that participation equity, regardless of location.
Allison: How would you say that the people who are in room or the in-person attendees, how do they need to adjust their mindsets?
Karin: They have to recognize that the people in the meeting are not just those who they can reach out and touch, or those who are with them on the virtual screen. It’s also up to them to be active participants. For one thing, don’t turn off your camera. If you don’t have your camera on and you are attending remotely, you will disappear. You will not have as much presence as those who have their camera on and certainly as those who are in the physical room.
So having your camera on in a hybrid meeting is really, really important, but it also keeps you from multitasking. That has been endemic with the pandemic that people are multitasking, and the camera does hold you accountable much more so than when you have it off and kind of keeps you focused on the meeting itself.
It’s a matter of virtual attendees recognizing, I have to be a little bit more active in trying to play a role in this meeting, but also for those who are in the physical meeting room itself to serve as these in-room allies, to be doing things like praising the feedback that somebody offers from a virtual position, and thanking them for participating. Being encouraging, making sure that if you haven’t heard from one of your colleagues who you know has an opinion on this who might be joining remotely, that you actually take the time to call them out and say, hey, we’d love to hear your opinion on this. So, it takes everybody to jointly say we want to make sure that we get the most out of this meeting, and that means participation by everybody.
Allison: One of the other challenges that I’ve recognized and maybe you could highlight, what do you feel is the required technology component? What do people need in to have an effective in-person and virtual meeting at the same time?
Karin: Because there are some organizations that think, okay, we’re going to have a hybrid meeting, which means that in the conference room, somebody’s going to open their laptop and they’re going to use their webcam and just use the microphone on their laptop, and you can see the people in little tiny boxes at the end of the table. That is not effective technology for a hybrid meeting. That is absolutely creating a two-tiered system.
So, there’s technology considerations for in the meeting room itself, in the physical space, and then there’s also technology considerations for those who are joining remotely. If you think about meeting room design in the conference room, that means at a minimum, having a good conference room camera that captures everybody in the room, which also might mean reconfiguring the seating arrangement so you’re not having anybody hide behind anybody else.
It means having a good audio system that picks up the sound from everyone in the room. This is one of the early pushbacks that I’m hearing right now is that people who are trying to attend remotely in a hybrid meeting can’t hear the dialogue effectively that’s going on in the conference room. A lot of the times it’s due to the fact that people are just using one microphone that’s say at the front of the conference room, and people are seated way back in the conference room and it doesn’t have a range to pick up their voices.
You have to really think about what does that look like from an audio setup standpoint? Does that mean having multiple microphones placed throughout the room so that everybody can be heard clearly? Probably.
You also need to have a large monitor in your conference room so that the people who are joining remotely have their physical selves represented largely. If you have just a small monitor in the corner, or as mentioned the laptop screen with their small faces, that is not going to create participation equity. So that’s the meeting room design. Those are like the very basics. There are a ton of innovations that have come up with as a result of the move towards hybrid. But if you want to look at just like the basics, that’s where I would start.
From a remote attendee perspective, it’s back to what we talked about in our fully virtual world. We need to have a good, high-quality webcam so that our image is not grainy. You need to have a good audio input. Sometimes your laptop microphones are totally fine, but sometimes they aren’t. It all depends on your space. If you have hardwood floors, tile floors, high ceilings, windows without window treatments, it can create a really echo-y sound and it can be difficult to hear you. What I suggest is try all different audio options that you have at your disposal. Toggle back and forth between them. Hop on a call with a friend who will be candid with you and say you sound like you’re talking in a tin can.
Lastly, just think about lighting, and this is something that is easier to control than the other two, because you can actually get pretty decent lighting just based on what Mother Nature is providing, so if you’re able to face a window, natural light is usually pretty filtered and will evenly illuminate your face.
Allison: All good suggestions. I think we’re doing it better. I mean, the more meetings I’m in that are kind of in a hybrid mix but, I think those are small, critical improvements for the effectiveness. What are some of your tips on ensuring that while we’re trying to accommodate a variety of locations – in person and not in person virtual – what are some of your tips for maintaining the level of productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of a meeting?
Karin: Making sure that everything is accessible, regardless of your location. That means storing the information in a place where everybody can get to it. You don’t want to have a situation where those who are in the office have access to materials or information that those who are remote would not have access to, because then you’re showing an in-office bias. Make sure that you have a way to be able to get that information out to everybody in a way that’s with equity.
Also, it’s a matter of also considering pre-work. Really leaning into pre-work because if anything, we all have been in more meetings than ever before with this meetingization of our lives during the pandemic, and we were on these meetings from eight o’clock in the morning until six o’clock at night, and it was exhausting. It still is exhausting.
But what I would say is try to cut down on the number of meetings you have by moving things to an asynchronous format. Joe always talks about how you have to ask yourself two questions. What is the purpose of my meeting, and does the purpose of that meeting require collaboration? If it does require collaboration, then have the meeting. But if you can’t say yes to that last question, you should not have a meeting. Information sharing, for example, can be done in asynchronous fashion. You can now record yourself sharing your screen and talking through your report. You can send out that video file and let people watch it at a time that is easier for them and it doesn’t clog up their calendars. So, making sure that you lean into that asynchronous work more will make your hybrid meetings more effective as a result.
Allison: What tips can you give for those companies that have been doing hybrid meetings really well?
Karin: I think it’s a matter of making sure that everybody feels like it’s as inclusive as possible. They don’t leave it to chance. Things are written out very concisely, but also in a way that there’s no question around what is the policy and what is not the policy. One of the interesting surveys that I saw recently is that up to 30% of employees who are frustrated with the way the hybrid meetings have been going in their organization would consider going to another organization because they have better, more explicit hybrid meeting policies. This is not something that is just a nice-to-have. It really is a need-to-have, and it’s a retention tool.
So, make sure that you plan, that you have it clearly stated how you’re going to be handling hybrid work, how you’re going to be handling hybrid meetings. Train your people on the technology that you employ. Having spent the past almost two years working with many people on how to improve their virtual presence, I know that just giving people the tool is not going to guarantee that they’re going to use it.
I’ve done a ton of one-on-one sessions where you hop on a call and somebody is looking really grainy in their image, and I said, didn’t the company send you a webcam? And they said, oh yeah, it’s in my closet. I haven’t taken it out of the box. I thought, what? No, no, no, no. So, we’d spend that one-on-one time unboxing the webcam because nobody helped them set it up. So having the technology that can support hybrid meetings is great, but you need to train them on how to use it, or it will just gather dust or metaphorical dust.
The other thing to train people on is how to learn the new techniques to manage a hybrid meeting. Train your managers on how to navigate the communication flow with all of these different communication mediums that they’re having to wrestle with on a daily basis. Train your employees, your teams on the new mindset that you need to have, and just make sure that everybody is on the same page because it won’t happen organically. There’s too much of a history of operating in one modality to have it easily transferred to this really new way of working, but this is the kind of work that’s going to stay. This is the kind of format that’s going to stay because now that we have the flexibility expectation, hybrid meetings have to be a part of that.
Allison: I agree. Have you come across any tools or apps that have allowed the engagement to be kind of energized in this hybrid type of format? We have one, but I just was curious if you have any specific apps that you’re seeing clients use.
Karin: I can’t think of anything specific. I try to be platform agnostic, very honestly. Tell me about the one you’re using though.
Allison: We use a platform called Kahoot.
Karin: Yes. Oh, the quiz. Yes!
Allison: And so, hybrid, whether you’re in person or virtually, you get to log in and you can kind of weigh in on survey responses and it shows the answers as to where people are weighing in on whatever question that you’re asking. It’s a fun way to quickly do a check in and get the meeting started in a way that’s focused around it being a virtual opportunity.
Karin: Yeah. I think anything that you can do to get people to do something is important, because especially if you’re remotely attending a meeting, there is this kind of default position that you want to take where you are kind of passively observing and you don’t want that to happen. You want people to feel like they are actively engaged. And so even during my training, I make sure that people are doing something every couple of minutes, so they don’t have an opportunity to zone out because they are expected to do something. That is a way to kind of reengage people on a regular basis. Kahoot is great. There are a lot of polling features that are right in the platforms themselves that you can use as well. And you’re right. You can use it whether you are joining in person or whether you’re joining virtually.
Allison: Yeah. Cool. Congratulations on Suddenly Hybrid hitting the shelves. Where can people pick up their copy?
Karin: Anywhere you buy books. That is truly the case. We’re really excited about this one. What I love about Suddenly Hybrid is it is so practical. We have a lot of theory and data that we are happy to share on the early promise of hybrid meetings, but there’s also a lot of checklists and reflection activities, and bulleted key takeaways that you can use as you’re trying to map out your hybrid strategy, because that really is critical. You have to take the time to plan because without it, you’re going to find your hybrid meetings are not what you want them to be.
Allison: Well, I appreciate the fact that you’re going to give everyone the tools they need to run a hybrid meeting effectively. I will in the show notes encourage you to go to your local bookstore, but I will probably include a link to Amazon directly to the book. Karin, how else can listeners get in touch or connect with you?
Karin: Thank you so much for asking, Allie. Speaker Dynamics is our communication training firm that I’ve been leading up for a decade, and obviously heavily, it’s been focused on virtual and hybrid communication over the past two years. We’ve been training organizations large and small on how to get the most out of this new way of communicating.
Having spent so many years as an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, it’s interesting that the on-camera skills that I’ve been teaching for a decade are now mission critical for everyone, so it’s been really gratifying to be in this position, help people just feel more confident and comfortable talking through the webcam.
Allison: Karin, thank you so much for joining us today. Congratulations on your newest book. It’s always a pleasure to see you.
Karin: Alli, thank you so much.