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Hybrid meetings: Design for the senses

You won’t be able to smell, touch or taste all other participants in your hybrid meeting, but… can you see them? Can you hear them?

Walking through your participant’s sensory experience of a hybrid meeting can be a great check for your setup and technology. Consider the following:

  1. Hearing
  2. Seeing
  3. Contributing


As a general rule of thumb, sound is the most important factor for a successful meeting. Anybody who’s participated in an online meeting is familiar with interruptions such as “you’re on mute“, “there’s background noise from somewhere” or “you’re breaking up“. Compensating a bad audio connection takes a lot of energy from participants, so it’s worth making sure that everything works well.

The key questions here: Can I hear you? Can you hear me?

For hybrid meetings, this means that you need a good external microphone to hear everyone well. And no, the built-in microphone from your laptop will not suffice. Depending on the room or the number of participants, you might work with a handheld microphone, a room microphone or a mobile boom box. If there’s more than one microphone in the room (e.g. additional laptops), manage mute carefully to avoid interference. Also make sure that only one loudspeaker is active in the meeting room.

In addition, you’ll want to give online participants a way to let you know if they cannot hear the meeting properly, ideally via chat. If there are side conversations (e.g. during breaks), it’s a good idea to mute the microphone to give online participants a break from listening, too.


Seeing is the main mechanism through which we perceive the entirety of the group. Those who are not visible are easily forgotten. Especially in hybrid meetings, it’s important to counteract the feeling that online participants are not really there. That’s why we need to show them clearly in the meeting room.

The key questions here: Can I see you? Can you see me?

To better see online participants, consider using a second screen to show their faces (while the first screen shows presentations or materials). You might also want to give the speaker or chair a way to see online participants while presenting. That is most easily achieved by positioning the speaker opposite the screens (instead of next to them).

As soon as more than two people share a camera, it becomes difficult for online participants to see facial expressions and distinguish who is speaking in the room. One way to counteract this is to work with a second camera (e.g. using a mobile phone on tripod) that shows the current speaker, while the main camera remains static and shows the room with all participants. If you have the capacity, assign someone to reposition the mobile camera whenever speakers change – otherwise you can ask the current speaker to move to the camera.

Of course, you can also ask everyone to join the meeting with their own laptop and camera. That way, you are basically running an online meeting – and are missing out on some of the dynamism and mobility possible in the meeting room.


Everyone’s active participation can transform an ordinary meeting into a great meeting. Often, this involves some way of capturing contributions, for example using sticky notes and flipcharts when working on site or shared documents and virtual flipcharts when working online. Hybrid meetings bring their unique logistic challenges for the use of these tools, as summarised in the table below.

Tools for engagementAccessible for online participants?Accessible for onsite participants?
Raising handsYesYes
Survey toolsYesLimited
Virtual flipchartYesLimited
Paper + pensNoYes
Tools for engagement in hybrid meetings

The key questions here: Can I contribute? Can you see my contributions?

As you see, online participants technically are more versatile in accessing engagement tools than onsite participants, though the link to the meeting room often needs assistance. An assigned buddy in the room can help verbalising the chat or calling attention to raised hands.

At the same time, participants on site can only directly access online tools if they are each using a laptop or mobile device – which is less fun. Instead, you might consider using multiple ways of input – with online participants brainstorming on a virtual flipchart or in the chat, and on site participants using physical sticky notes.

You’ll then want to consolidate everything in one location – either by uploading a quick picture of the sticky notes to the virtual flipchart or by copying online contributions onto paper. If you are taking notes on flipcharts during discussions, you can also upload those to the meeting platform.

Designing hybrid meetings

As you see above: designing hybrid meetings that allow everyone to participate fully requires additional effort and generally increases complexity. You’ll want to have a good team for them, so that one person can focus on the process, another on technology in the room and a third on managing the online meeting tools.

Instead of meeting in hybrid mode, it might be easier to host an engaging meetings purely online. Alternatively, you can also consider only opening a part of the workshop for online participants – and focusing on the participants in the room for the rest of the time.

Do you need to host a hybrid meeting and need help thinking through the options? Let’s talk!

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Wiebke Herding

Facilitation and process design for a changing world. Mission: momentum for sustainability. Managing Director @ONSUBJECT. she/they.

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