With the Covid pandemic and related variants surging, many companies are struggling with their in-person travel and meeting procedures and policies. While they may desire to get “back to normal” operations to bolster their revenue streams, they are faced with ever-changing news reports, regional variations and mandates, and their customers’ comfortability and guidelines regarding in-person engagement. As such, some companies are adopting a hybrid approach to meeting with customers – some are face to face, while some customers are engaged virtually as they have throughout the pandemic.
Some B2B companies are taking this same approach to their customer advisory boards (CAB) meeting attendance, holding meetings with a mix of in-person and virtual participants. Here are five tips for adopting this approach:
1) Know the pros and cons of hybrid customer advisory board meetings
While the hybrid meeting concept seems to make sense to meet every member’s needs in today’s environment, CAB managers should be clear on what they’re in for. Having CAB members join in via phone or video can be problematic – it will likely be hard for them to hear and contribute to the conversation. Use microphones for each attendee and ensure the mics are connected to the virtual meeting platform so everyone can hear what is being said in the meeting room. If not managed well, such limitations may make for an inferior meeting experience for them, and the in-person attendees as well. In addition, offering virtual meeting attendance may reduce in-person participation by those who otherwise would have joined you, but may now take the easier, travel-free virtual participation option if offered.
2) Poll your customer advisory board members beforehand
Before committing to a hybrid meeting, poll your CAB members well in advance as to their preferences. There may be a vast majority who want to participate in person, or who can only join an online meeting. If you have a strong majority, you may simply opt to hold your next CAB meeting entirely virtual or in-person, and only lose the participation of one or two participants. Of course, those who are willing to travel to an in-person meeting should be able to join a virtual one. By asking your members in advance, you are letting them drive the decision that works best for them.
3) Test technologies
If you do decide to go with both in-person and virtual meeting participants, be sure to investigate, price, and test all technologies needed to enable this. This may necessitate utilizing your own, a vendor, or a hotel’s expert AV staff. But do note that hotel internet connection speeds can be slower than what’s required for video conferences, so be sure to inquire as to their capabilities and experience here. Selecting a meeting facility with excellent Wi-Fi connectivity is a must. Many times, it could be your corporate headquarters or a nice corporate boardroom perhaps in your executive briefing center. Winging it on-site will almost certainly not go well.
4) Engage all attendees at hybrid CAB meetings
You’ll want to be sure your virtual participants are engaged just as they would be if they were attending in person. That means including them in your planned breakout exercises, brainstorming sessions, and prioritization games. As such, you may need to send to them in advance any materials they need to fully participate in the meeting. On the flip side, if your company is a last-minute planner, your virtual participants may be forced into a lesser role in the meeting.
5) Use a skilled facilitator
A meeting with both virtual and in-person attendees will have even more need for a skilled, experienced facilitator to ensure all participants are being heard and actively engaged. If you are the facilitator, dedicate time for only the virtual participants to be heard on any topic. It’s much easier to respond to the people in the room vs. the virtual participants. Without this, or just using someone from your company, the virtual attendees may be ignored, tune out or become a distraction.
6) Select the right location and meeting room for the in-person meeting
Choose a location that is central to where both internal employees and clients. If your customers are clustered in several major locations, consider rotating the in-person meeting locations over time to accommodate the CAB members. Consider hosting the CAB meeting in your corporate offices, as you will be already set up with IT support and enterprise-level Internet connectivity. Regarding the physical space, ensure the meeting room allows the extra distance between people as they may no longer be comfortable sitting shoulder to shoulder.
Be prepared and plan ahead for hybrid advisory board meetings
Mixing virtual and in-person CAB meeting attendees may be a necessity in the age of Covid but doing so can water down or even sabotage your otherwise well-planned meeting if not done right. As such, proceed with caution: be sure that this is the direction you want to go, plan and prepare to engage all meeting participants as you would for an in-person meeting.