By Kyle Hall, DTM

Last year, due to COVID-19, we were told we could not meet in person. Many of our clubs moved online, meeting on Zoom.  Our time of enforced isolation is coming to an end, however. (Alleluia!)  Soon we’ll be able to meet in person.  We’ll be able to forget all about meeting online…or will we?

During the last 15 months, some of our:

  • Members have discovered immune system compromised family members they still need to protect
  • Members have gotten used to meeting online
  • Clubs have received new members who live too far away to attend in person.  (My home club in Sequim, for example, has three new members…from California, Taiwan and South Korea.)

Some of us don’t want to go back to in-person only meetings and some of us can’t…so we are going hybrid.

What is a Hybrid Club?

A hybrid club is a club that meets both online and in-person. There are two methods a club can use to to go hybrid:

  • A club that meets in-person sometimes…and online at other times.
  • A club that meets in-person and online at the same time.  We’ve heard some people call this a “blended” meeting.

For this article, we are focusing only on the second method.

Why Go Hybrid?

While it is appealing to imagine going back to the way things were, there are some compelling reasons to consider choosing a hybrid meeting format. Enabling members to continue attending online allows:

  • Our most vulnerable members to protect themselves or their family members by staying home.
  • Us to continue to welcome guests and attract applicants from far and wide.
  • Our members to explore the advantages and challenges of modern, technology-based communication.

Minimum Hybrid Technology

Assuming we are talking about a club that meets in-person and online at the same time, the minimum technology required is:

  • High speed internet.
  • A computer, tablet or smartphone with a camera.  The camera is positioned half way back into the room, facing the lectern, so online attendees can see the lectern.
  • Some type of sound system (like external speakers) that connects to the above device, so in-room members can hear those online when they speak.
  • A multi-directional microphone that connects to the above device, so online attendees can hear those in-room when they speak.
  • Zoom or another meeting application.

Recommended Hybrid Technology

The clubs I’ve visited that are trying to make hybrid meetings work have also added to the minimum technology the following:

  • A second computer, tablet or smartphone with a camera.  The camera is positioned towards the front of the room, facing the audience.  This is so online attendees can see the in-room audience.
  • A big screen TV or projector in-room and connected to a computer, so in-room attendees can see the online audience and any online speakers.
  • The Toastmaster of the Day, Zoommaster and Officers have an alternative means to communicate mid-meeting, i.e. texting or WhatsApp.

Once we have all the equipment we need or want, how does going hybrid impact our club culture.  Here is a comment by a very experienced hybrid club member…

Sound Advice has been a hybrid club for at least five years. We’ve been in multiple locations in those years. Some have worked better than others. The most important lesson we’ve learned is to plan in advance to meet the needs of the members filling each role. An in-room Toastmaster of the Day will have different needs than an online Toastmaster of the Day. Planning can avoid the last minute panic moments that have members scrambling and guests being one-time only!

Adapt the club culture for in-room and online attendees. For example, if members and guests arrive 15 minutes before the meeting to mix and mingle, make sure you have a breakout room ready for online attendees to mix and mingle, and an online member to welcome them and answer questions.

– Mary Morrison, DTM, PID

I’ve visited a few hybrid clubs and discussed the process of going hybrid with many of my fellow club members, especially those in Nerdmasters.  Here are my suggestions regarding practices our clubs may want to implement.

Best Practices for Going Hybrid

  • Every person in-room who stands up to speak, whether for a speech, table topics, an evaluation or a report, walks up to the lectern.  This is so online attendees can better see them.
  • All roles are open to all members, whether in-room or online.
  • Officers and Toastmasters of the Day do their best to treat all attendees equally, whether in-room or online.
  • Speech evaluators feel free to add comments regarding how a speaker is appearing on screen, as well as in-person.  
  • General Evaluators feel free to comment on how well the hybrid practices are working and how they might be improved.
  • Many in-room attendees bring devices and connect to Zoom, so they can CHAT with online attendees.
  • Have at least two people designated to greet guests: one for in-room and one for online attendees.
  • Multiple members know how to setup the in-room computers, cameras, sound systems and microphones.
  • Multiple members are trained in running Zoom or your meeting application. They can assist other members in using most aspects of the tool, such as screen sharing, the white board, etc.
  • Zoommasters, or whoever is running the meeting application, coordinate at least 24 hours before the meeting with the Toastmaster of the Day and Speakers, so there are no surprises.

If I have one piece of advice to give a club going hybrid, it is remember we need to be patient with ourselves as we learn to do hybrid better.  In Toastmasters we learn by trying and getting feedback.  This is also how our clubs master the art of going hybrid.