Monday, May 16, 2022

"I couldn't tell who was in the room, and who was on zoom.."

Last weekend, I was part of supporting a hybrid conference - which was about how we 'do' hybrid (hope that's not too meta of a concept to open a blog post with?)

As a facilitator who's part of the IAF England & Wales team, earlier this year we were considering how to re-assert ourselves as a body of practitioners, and also re-spark our community of facilitators, after being without our customary annual conference for the last 2 years (Covid, and all that). 
Someone (possibly me) suggested that we do it as a hybrid event - giving us the chance to share, try out, and learn from others how we do events where people are both 'roomies' and 'zoomies'. 

And while there's lots of other posts people are making about their experiences of it across social media, expressing how having it as hybrid was far more enjoyable and engaging than many were fearful it would be otherwise, I wanted to pause to reflect on my experience of leading a session about how we do networking in hybrid ways.

Given that we all know (in theory) how to do networking in person, and we've started to feel our way with it on-line in breakout rooms, etc over the last 2 years of pandemic, I wanted to try out the notion of doing it 'hybrid' - where the people networking together are both on-line and in a room at the same time.

I also wanted to explore some of what each side felt like they were missing out on, in not being in the others' physical/virtual space. 
So, as part of the session, I posed a flipped question to both groups - what did zoomies feel they were missing out on, by not being in the room; and what did the roomies feel they were missing out on by not being a zoomie.

Interesting, there were lots of frustrations and FOMOs expressed on both sides, but in 'headline':

- if you're on-line in a hybrid event, you miss the spontaneity and potential for physical contact with other human beings;

- if you're in the room at a hybrid event, you can feel more vulnerable and at risk from not having access to your usual home comforts, and having less recourse to being able to 'get out' if you feel they need to.


So - some good learning that highlights that not everyone is keen to rush back to doing everything in person (or if we are, we need some careful considerations). 
And there was also lots of other great learning throughout the conference about the realities and practicalities of both managing, and being part of, hybrid events.
(SPOILER: despite our not spending any money on tech, and the venue not being set up for hybrid, we managed to lash-up makeshift roving cameras and mics in ways that impressed everyone both on and off line, showing that it doesn't have to be that technically difficult).

But for me, the key message from my session wasn't about how to run hybrid networking in a tech way, but in how I approached it as a facilitator in recognising that there were 2 groups of people with different different starting/engagement points.
Encouragingly, how I planned the session and facilitated the networking seemed to work really well for people, with comments being made afterwards such as:

- "this experience has made me more confident about doing things in a hybrid way"

- "when we were doing the networking, I hadn't realised who was in the room/on zoom until afterwards!"

So for anyone who's either planning, or thinking about being part of, a hybrid event - my takeaway would be this: as important as it is to get the tech doing the things you need/want it to, it's just as important to also think and plan how you're going to structure the sessions and activities within it to help everyone feel part of it, regardless of how they're joining it.

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