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When Meetings Become Nightmares

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Tue May 21 2024

When Meetings Become Nightmares
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In a modern hybrid environment, avoid these horror stories.

Late in Tuesday morning’s session, "Surviving Hybrid Horror Stories: Success Strategies From the Field," panel host Robert Kienzle emphasized that no matter how much preparation individuals do, virtual situations inevitably go wrong. During the hour-long session, each panelist detailed exactly how wrong things can go in hybrid meetings and offered a few solutions.

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The panel included Kienzle, a senior consultant at Knowmium; Tomomi Kumai, an intercultural coach; Sherri Sutton, chief unlearning officer at Meeting Mechanic; and B.J. Whetstine, branch chief of supervisory support and development for the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Kienzle began the session by relaying his definition of hybrid from his book, Hybrid Live Guide. It entails sessions, workshops, meetings, and events where both in-person and virtual participants have similar chances to participate in activities.

“If the virtual people are not ready to speak up, or the face-to-face people are not ready to be quiet to let the virtual people speak up, it may not be that equal value that we’re trying to create with all the participants,” Kienzle explained.

Sutton, who said she loves meetings, noted that a meeting should involve everyone, both giving and receiving information. Therefore, there shouldn’t be any observers.

Despite everyone on the panel’s expertise, they have all had bad hybrid experiences that they shared with the audience.

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For example, when Sutton was an in-person keynote speaker on the second day of a hybrid conference, organizers didn’t meet with her before her speech, which was about making virtual attendees feel welcome in a hybrid meeting.

“Make sure your virtual audience is included. Send them things in advance. Have activities,” she said. In her circumstance, the conference organizers “had done nothing like that the entire conference, so you could see the meeting organizers cringing as I was talking. I said \[to myself\], ‘This is a disaster.’”

One of Kumai’s horror stories involved time zone issues for international attendees.

“It was in-person training, inviting European and Asian participants to the US,” she stated. “But because of budget cuts, only US people could travel. So, it was two full-day trainings that went hybrid. In Japan and Korea, that’s a 10 p.m. start and a 6 a.m. ending. So that was really hard.”

One solution for dealing with last-minute issues that inevitably pop up is to set ground rules for hybrid meetings.

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“You have to be deliberate about how the people online are hearing the people in the room,” Whetstine said. “And so, nobody talks—if they’re making some sort of contribution that needs to be heard online—nobody talks without the microphone.”

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