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Experts! Speak English PODCAST

Mastering the Art of Hybrid Workshops & Conferences #156

This podcast episode is focused on planning and delivering hybrid workshops and conferences which are a pleasure to learn for all involved.

The podcast begins by discussing how assumptions can be harmful, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts, and how character assassinations can damage relationships and reputations. The host introduces the “Assumptions Assassinations Checklist” as a tool to help listeners avoid these pitfalls.

Corinne Wilhelm poses some questions including…

  1. Do I have all the facts?
  2. Am I making a judgment based on evidence or emotion?
  3. Have I considered the other person’s perspective?
  4. Am I projecting my own biases or experiences onto the situation?
  5. Have I communicated the activity or instructions clearly with the other person?
  6. Can all of the participants, see and hear properly?
  7. Are there enough breaks?

The podcast then goes on to provide further details and examples for each . The host emphasizes the importance of being self-aware and mindful of the requirements of both online and in-person participants when planning and delivering the workshop or conference.

In conclusion, the simple but practical “Assumptions Assassinations Checklist” is presented as a self-evaluation tool that you can print off whenever you suspect that you might be making assumptions about the learning space, participants, format or timing.

Welcome to the Experts! Speak English! Podcast! Together we’ll discover how to talk yourself into an international career without the bullshit. And at the end of each episode, I give you an opportunity to try out what you have just learned on the show because I give you Coco’s Communication Challenge and that gives you an opportunity to get out there and try out one of the tools, techniques or tips that you will have heard on the show.

I’m Corinne Wilhelm, I’m a corporate communication coach with over 20 years experience of helping leaders to secure the career that they deserve through intentional communication, intercultural awareness, and the confidence to show up as the English speaking expert. So, let’s get cracking, shall we?

Hybrid workshops are a wonderful opportunity to welcome a diverse group of participants, but they do have their challenges. One of my most recent ones was at Deutsche Börse, so the German Stock Exchange. I got rave reviews when within an hour they were already talking about a follow-up of longer workshop, where the participants of this hybrid workshop could dive deeper into the topic of unconscious bias. I was thrilled, flattered, but I couldn’t help but feeling that I hadn’t picked up on both online and in-person participants in the same way.


No doubt, like me, you’ve attended hybrid meetings and training sessions when you, you know, you got to know only too well how it feels to be a slightly ignored online participant. So, I’m on a mission to make sure that I master hybrid workshops. I have a habit of over-obsessing about stuff I want to learn, which is why I was fairly fluent in German in just three months. I dive in to find out more and this podcast episode of Experts! Speak English! is a comprehensive checklist of what you need to do to deliver an amazing hybrid workshop or amazing hybrid workshops. You will find out exactly how to manage a hybrid meeting, serving both remote attendees and in-person attendees in such a way that everyone feels involved, engaged and inspired.


You’ll still have to practice and make your own mistakes – sorry about that -, but, you know, I would love to hear from you and see what else you learned along the way so that I can help other listeners by adding to the podcast notes. But let’s start with a checklist, as I think that’s a great place to start on your hybrid workshop journey.

Now, it is tempting to think that you can just look at the online audience from time to time – job done. But first of all, do you know where the camera is? I have big Google eyes stuck on my laptop to help me. But trust me, it’s a little bit more complex than that, especially if you’re under time pressure. Most workshops tend to be squeezed into one hour just to keep things nice and tight, and it’s often a good way to try you out and see what you like. And the trick is to plan with precision. 


In fact, Coco’s three keys to success are:


  • planning with precision, 
  • intentional interaction and 
  • tight but calm timing. 


That sounds weird, but it will make sense later.


Planning with precision for hybrid success


peg doll with message notification icon, chat social media interaction.


Tight timing that gives yourself a chance to transition smoothly is critical in hybrid workhops and conferences

Now, facilitators are familiar with, you know, setting the ground rules, but with hybrid, you have some extra points to get agreement on.

A good workshop requires participants to be focused.

That means camera’s on, preferably not eating. If they have an urgent call that they really have to do right there, right now, then they should do that off-screen.

The in-person people need to be acutely aware of the distraction that their quiet/side conversations have on the online participants and of course the standard ones like, you know, having your phone on silence and so on.

But let me talk to you a little bit about assumptions.

Now on reflection (such a beautiful thing, right?), I realised that for the Deutsche-Börse-workshop I had done, what you should never, ever do. 


I had made three assumptions.

1. I assumed that the participants would not be familiar with tools like Miro and Mural. But was that the case? I didn’t actually ask.

2. I assumed that I would have to manage everything myself. But actually, that wasn’t the case at all. I had a fabulous sidekick.

3. I assumed that once I was on the call, I wouldn’t lose my internet connection or press the “leave meeting”-button instead of the “leave room” button. And when this did happen, I lost my cool. My timer was no longer activated and I was thrown off track. I made and stuck to my assumptions because I didn’t want to be a bother.


Now, just telling you not to make assumptions isn’t particularly helpful, is it now?

So, instead, I challenge you to ask yourself to list the assumptions that you are making.

Prepare a list for yourself right now with assumptions on the left and true and false with a space for the date and person that told you on the right. Now fill in your assumption assassination form. You can download/print the one below.

That’s right! Like an obsessed crime scene detective discover with certainty whether these assumptions are accurate or not.

Running a successful hybrid workshop requires accurate assumptions, otherwise known as facts.

Assumptions Assassinations Checklist (Experts Speak English Podcast Episode 156)

So, ask the organiser and if they’re being vague or slow or unsupportive, set some pre-work so that you can find out. Don’t try to wing it. This is a great way to demonstrate clearly that this will be a valuable use of their time and gives the participants in this pre-work the opportunity to use any tools that you’re planning to use in your facilitation ahead of the meeting with something really simple. Not only does this give them the opportunity to familiarise themselves and fail with the tool ahead of time on their own, but also by investing some time in preparing for the workshop they’re more invested. Attendance will rise too. After all, they have already invested some of their valuable time. So not showing up would be a waste of that time.


Plus, of course, you will have wetted their appetite for the topic, the tool and yourself as the committed facilitator. Pre-work should always add value to the workshop. It needs to get them thinking and contributing constructively. Believe me, running hybrid meetings requires planning with precision. Don’t get distracted too much by the content. Leave yourself time to plan.


Hybrid work is the norm, so let’s get good at it to improve our chances of leading hybrid teams, effectively. Running a hybrid meeting or workshop is actually a great way to prove that you have hybrid-team-leadership potential. So let’s move on to the next point on our list, in the preparation checklist:

First of all, you need to do a tech-check. 

As a forward thinking, fearless leader you’ll need to be aware that these hybrid meetings and workshops have lots of moving parts, more than you would get in a regular face-to-face learning event or seminar. So, we need to consider potential differences and disasters – with technology tools, internet connections, devices and chargers. Things like remembering to bring enough charging cables for a longer event might not seem like a big deal until you are halfway through the feedback-round and you get that warning message. That is enough to send me anyway into a complete frenzy. 


Now hardware can feel like a pain to bring to the venue. I get it. It’s heavy and bulky and might not fit neatly into your favourite bag, but having another laptop to fall back on is huge in terms of reassurance and this will boost your confidence and hence your professionalism. So, if you do have a technical calamity, it’s not a disaster. They happen and it’s never in a boring meeting you want to get out of, is it? It’s always when you want to make a good impression – Murphy’s Law, I guess. 


When you’re training is online or hybrid, you need to make sure that all of the tech is working because online participants are just a click away from giving up on you.

The key is to check all of the tech in all of the locations ahead of the hybrid event. Not an hour before – I’m thinking a week before. You need to check audio and video, but also the internet connection, whether the facilitator can see all of the participants and the ability to share screens.

Online, since, if you’re like me, you’re used to hopping between tools, you should also try out the breakout-rooms. They’re in slightly different places so it pays to know where they are, so that you know how to move around freely, activate the chat, things like that. 


Now, also, as well as audio and video, which are very important, I really would like you to check the lighting, too, at the same time as your hybrid workshop will take place. And if need be, organise additional lighting.

Make sure that all of your online participants can see what is going on by marking the space in which you will be visible to your online audience. Not with a cross, but with a square or rectangle. Why? Well, this gives you more freedom to move around for a more dynamic delivery style without alienating your remote participants. And make sure that you use something that is not going to trip you up. I find that yellow masking tape does the trick very well. You’ll need at least two metres by two metres. 


And if you would like to keep an eye on your online participants, it’s a good idea to have a laptop near to the stage so that you can check in on them during the workshop. This means that you don’t have to leave the stage and come back. Just have it on a nice high table, one of these cocktail tables that you get, and that tends to work very well.

So next I’d like to talk to you about contingency plans or a plan B. In fact, you might need a plan B, plan C, plan D,… because, we have to be honest and realistic about the fluctuating course attendance, with last minute no-shows that comes with the flexibility of being online. It’s annoying, but it’s the way it is. 


Not having a clear idea of how many will attend makes it necessary to have a plan B. And whilst you’re at it, let’s have a plan C – just in case. The numbers will affect your time calculations and the size of the breakout groups. So you will have to be able to adapt.


Agility will save the day and make things look smooth as a baby’s bottom. So yes, online learners do tend to see hybrid training as an optional extra, so we as trainers need to make sure that our reputation precedes us. Post-pandemic, we are all more intentional about how we use our time, what is worth attending, whether it is worth travelling. I think we are kinder about cramming our own schedule but also mindful about the impact on the environment that travelling has. What we are going for here is a situation where people say, “Ooh, Corinne Wilhelm is leading that training. She’s great! You have to register quick to secure your spot. She always makes the training super relevant and really engaging”.


Of course, not just I would like to hear that being said about me. We all would, wouldn’t we? And that way, as a facilitator, word of mouth can be a massive reputation booster for you, leaving you with more time to perfect your craft as a trainer or facilitator. Agile coaches, too, can boost their reputation and acceptance through sheer brilliance.

Remember, engagement requires you to be upbeat and yes, you will need to bring more energy to the stage or the screen.

But this isn’t about being a clown or a stand-up comedian.

It’s about activating their engagement and interest. It’s about them, not you. It’s not about your knowledge – it’s about your ability to help them work together to find their own solutions.


You’ll have to keep an eye on the energy levels so that it’s not too exhausting, both for you and the learners, to maintain that focus. It’s good to build in quieter, thought-provoking sections to provide that contrast.

That makes it easier to focus. Changing things up regularly is a key motivator. Never forget that! I try and think in blocks of 12 to 18 minutes. 


Use your voice, use the stage, reach in to the audience, hand them something through the screen.

Focus on your delivery, as well as the content. That takes skill, practice and experience. But when you have cracked it, wow, that’s marvellous! Almost a magical experience. Oh, got a bit carried away there – back to my checklist.


Anyway, for interaction with your audience, it needs to be as easy and effective for all of the attendees. It shouldn’t be easier if you’re online or easier if you’re in person. Everybody should be on a level playing field.

One of the simplest low-tech ways of boosting engagement, which is very, you know, low-tech but also doesn’t take much time, is to ask questions.

Serious looking handsome student in denim clothes squinting at camera and pointing left with index

For online participants it’s helpful to use a specific emoji (reaction button) that’s fairly easy to see.


Or, if you notice that there is an energy slump, get them to use their hands or their body instead.

But in this case, remote participants need to put their hands right up close to the camera or their screen so that you can gauge reactions quickly. A silly dummy-run like “Who has drunk coffee today?”, is a good way to get people interacting effectively. Give them something relatable to start with.


It’s tempting to skip that icebreakers-part and get into the serious discussions, but if you do that, then the serious part won’t be as revealing and genuine.

So don’t skip that dummy-run!

That will speed things up and it will help you to gain learning momentum later on. 



You can also get people to use the chat, of course, to gauge reactions. So, if you’ve worked with someone with a different skin colour this week, put a one in the chat. If you’ve worked with a colleague with different accent to you, put it too in the chat, if you’ve worked with both, put a three in the chat. So can you see, very quickly you would get a feel for what’s going on and you could have somebody in the background adding it all up for you.


You can also get people to use the chat to share letters instead, or one-word answers or even the gift that describes them right now. Get creative and remember that in business, science and politics, at the end of the day, we are all human. You probably have a lot of tired humans if it’s the end of the day, so make it relatable, make it fun, make it inspiring. That interaction will be a reflection of your energy and approachability. 


The chat is also a great place for people to exchange ideas and ask questions. It’s really helpful, though, for participants to start a question with “QUESTION” in big capital letters so that you can scroll through and find those questions in the break or later. Tell them about that little protocol for a smoother delivery and a more responsive approach to your workshop right at the beginning with those ground rules.

So, we’ve talked about planning with precision, intentional interaction, and now we want to focus on timing.

In a hybrid environment, you need to    s l o w    things down. This is something I struggle with.

As a native speaker of English or even a confident speaker of English, you need to be careful not to alienate non-native speakers by talking too quickly.

Nobody does this on purpose, but if you are passionate or irritated about something, it’s easy to start talking faster without even noticing. But that’s the point: you have to notice. And if you struggle with this, ask one of the co-hosts to nudge you with a private message or a certain sign or something.

Speaking fast does not demonstrate fluency. It loses people because they just can’t keep up. They lose concentration. 


The thing is this: Technology is improving in leaps and bounds, but there is still a delay of speech and it’s usually around 5 to 7 seconds. Now, that doesn’t sound like long, but it can feel like a pregnant, awkward pause.

Ask participants  to take that into account. You might have to remind them to be patient and compassionate.

Now, if you are all online at the same time, this is less obvious because internet connections are fairly similar now in terms of speed and reliability. But in a hybrid event, whether that’s on Zoom, Teams, Google Meet or whichever online conferencing tool you’re using, there will be a delay.

The in-person participants in the meeting room will need to be prepared for time delays and encouraged from the outset to be patient about those delays. It’s tempting to start talking straight away but give the online participants a chance to catch up. It’s not them, it’s the tech. 


Remote participants should not get the feeling that they are always behind because the session has already started without them.

Instead, learn to get comfortable with silence or waiting time. It’s tempting to give your participants a question to think about or a mini task, but remember, for sustainable learning, it’s best practice to build in brain breaks. And this mini break is a little power-up for you, too. Breathe.

Take a drink. I find that taking a drink is an excellent bridge. This is good for your voice and concentration too. 


Hybrid is also slower in terms of transitions, so simple things like switching from your presentation to the audience, accessing a web page, waiting for poll results to come in, setting in additional breakout rooms – these are all examples of mini stoppages that slow down hybrid events.

So, to be sure to allow for 10 to 15% more time than you would in a pure face-to-face or a pure online meeting.


You can always add something – I think we’re all pretty good at that.

But as I discovered, there is nothing worse than having to race through your session, speaking really fast, by the way, which is not good for the non-native speakers to respect time limitations.

So, keep it focused and simple and have extra tasks and questions

for 5 minutes,

for 10 minutes,

for 15 minutes.

In reality, the chances are that you won’t need any of them. But if you like, you can send them along with your presentation slides so that the keen learners can work through them on their own. 


The other thing I would like to remind you to do is to speak more clearly, taking care to pronounce each and every word fully.

Less words, more focus.

Acoustics play a part. There are delays and there are non-native speakers, so, slow it down and bring them in. 

Take a drink break, for your voice and your concentration

Number two was intentional interaction, because this isn’t a lecture or speech, although you can start with knowledge. I like to start with a speech too, but the true value of workshops is when they get to work, to think, to share. The magic happens where collaboration begins.


Effective hybrid meetings require each online participant to be on their own computer or screen so that you can see their name, their facial expressions and gestures. And it’s tempting to have two people per screen, especially if you’re on-boarding, but this is to be avoided. Get them to change their name. If it’s helpful, get them to write their job title or department. You can provide instructions in the chat for this. Just tell them that it’s there, not everyone has the chat activated. 


Sharing a screen inhibits involvement and interaction massively. In-person participants can be together in one room for the introduction at the beginning, but then put people into separate breakout rooms. The more breakout rooms, the better in terms of interaction, which is why booking in these bricks-and-mortar meeting rooms should be done at least four or six weeks in advance, ideally with permanent cameras and screens in place. And this will save you time and energy trying to get people together and back to the main room. It’s advisable to ask your tech team to be available during the time of the test and the real event – just in case. That gives you reassurance. 


Bigger companies will find it easier to book a row or a group of meeting rooms for the breakout sessions if they have the workshop before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.. This gives you a better chance of having a row of breakout rooms close together. I find that the closer the audience in these breakout rooms are to the camera, the better. So, allow yourself the time to adjust the camera slightly and encourage participants to sit kind of a little bit closer together, if they don’t mind.

There are these owl cameras that zone in on the person speaking, which you might also consider. But be aware of the downsides. The participants all need to be made aware that the owl picks up on literally every noise. (Knocks on the table) – things like this, including drinks being put down on the table, you know, or coughs or maybe some other bodily noises?!

So this is a time for acute silent listening.

It might feel weird to have a tablecloth on a conference desk, but it does make a difference and takes a little bit of echo out of the room. 


The microphone being used should be one that is powerful enough to pick up voices from all directions. The Yeti is an affordable option for this purpose, but be aware that people on the outside need to be able to lean in slightly to that microphone. Make sure that they’re not blocking somebody else’s vision.


Putting online participants in together with other in-person participants is a great way to really embrace the hybrid nature of these workshops.

And yes, this takes more effort and coordination, but if you’ve stayed with me for this long, you’re probably committed enough to create a level playing field where both online and offline participants are equally involved, working together, even if it is a bit more work.


For that to happen and you’re working in stations, you will need to have one laptop that acts as this online participant and that laptop will be moved around from station to station, but it works really well and once you’ve tried it, you won’t want to go back.

To run a hybrid meeting successfully, you have to go the extra mile for your participants, both in-person and remote, because working a hybrid workshop is more challenging.

But like with most things in life, if you can pull it off, that’s an awesome feeling.

And let’s face it, the hybrid format is here to stay.

Personally, I see my commitment to hybrid training as my contribution to diversity and inclusion, because by making hybrid learning valuable and enjoyable, we can welcome, for example, female professionals on maternity leave, people off work battling with mental health or in a clinic, part-time mothers, sick children or ageing relatives and basically anyone that’s not in the office.

It’s a step towards gaining their loyalty by making them welcome and a part of the team, even if they can’t be there in person.

Just like a hybrid car, in hybrid training sessions, we need breaks to refuel.
Coco taking a break

A word about breaks: For the in-person participants, a hybrid meeting will not feel as exhausting as for the online participants.

They are closer to the screen, will have to listen much more acutely and focus on the often smaller screen, so more breaks are extremely important.

They are not a luxury.

Brain breaks accommodate learning, and it’s these breaks when your audience gets a chance to process what they’ve just been exposed to. 


In addition to breaks, make sure that you are changing the style and the pace of the workshop.

This is always greatly appreciated and makes it easier to focus, consume and take action on.

After all, learning with that implementation is just a jolly.

So you will need more breaks in hybrid training and meetings. 

My first international experience of hybrid was actually referred to as blended learning. It was 20 years ago in Salzburg and back then virtual meetings were not yet standard practice even for listed companies like this one. Well, I say Salzburg, the face-to-face participants met weekly in a conference room and their colleagues in three other locations in other time zones, also got access to the instructions for the synchronous tasks that all participants had to complete.

The goal was to get all of the teams speaking the same English. So we identified some confusing terms that were being used in weird and wonderful ways. We practiced them, we performed some typical dialogues and talked in-depth about documentation, customer service, and there was a lot of frustration around change requests. 


But interestingly, in addition to becoming more comfortable and confident speaking in English, managing each other’s accents and understanding each other – through more empathy in practice -, many participants, especially the management team, reported that this was actually an incredible team-building experience. This mixed learning experience, as they were calling it at the time, with online and offline learning had improved the team’s ability to work together and communicate more effectively, both internally and with their sometimes incredibly demanding and often monolingual clients. 


What you have to remember is that the learning space technology was in contrast to today really rather clunky, and yet the impact was huge. I was hooked and I’ve been providing online training since 2003.

I know that makes me a dinosaur, but I’m also the first to experiment and share new tools and techniques. I have an impressive learning toolbox, intriguing and full of excitement, but it has to add value to the learning experience in terms of sustainable learning.

I’m very careful not to add bling and animations just for show. In fact, you need to be mindful of gradients, which is why I rarely share videos. Animations too can be tricky with a tendency to lag. I tend to share these in the pre-work or afterwards.

Remember, we are trying hard to boost flow and freedom of the mind, so text alternatives might not be so sexy, but they can be much more reliable in a hybrid setting.


In terms of timing, if you are working with colleagues or clients in different time zones, it makes sense to offer two times for the same workshop.


So let me talk to you very briefly about interruption etiquette. In a regular workshop situation, it’s quite normal to quickly say something to the person next to you, but these side conversations are really distracting when you have an online audience straining to hear what’s being said. In order to be respectful to the online participants, it’s really important to keep them on your radar. If you can manage those side conversations, because actually what happens is it slows down the whole workshop and it means that many participants will be asking you or your fellow participants to repeat themselves, which is rather frustrating. And the easiest way to control this is to control the microphone. So have that microphone, where there are lots of people sitting together, off, unless of course they’re actively contributing to the discussion and the workshop. 

Having a microphone to hand around is an option, but it is rather time consuming. So, I would stick a microphone in the middle of the table. But this is really a matter of personal preference, you’re going to have to experiment and see which one works better for you.

Online participant in a hybrid meeting straining to hear what is being said

This is the section where I’m going to talk to you about the timings of your workshop. This is a very important part to pay a little bit of attention, too. So, keeping to the time restrictions that you have allocated to yourself to make sure that you cover everything is tricky. It seems so easy when you’re on your own, trying it out at home or in your office, but be sure to avoid a monologue and share your knowledge but keep it tight. And remember, keep it slow. 


I have discovered that having two analogue timers is a good idea that works well for me. Once you time the whole workshop or the webinar and I tend to use a time timer, one of those ones with the red space, that gets smaller and smaller so that I can literally see the red section getting tinier and tinier as time goes past. I marked the points when I’m switching from one activity or discussion to the next, and this analogue option is very reliable, although I have to say it’s not super precise. So, it’s good for the big picture. A second timer is on my phone and, you know, my phone’s on silent mode, but these are set up in advance, of course, and provide an option for me to check whether I’m running to schedule easily.

What I love most about working with my virtual attendees is that I can create customizable learning materials that are tailored to their needs.

Now, this is not especially scalable or financially sexy, but for me it is the ultimate challenge of engaging hybrid audiences.

That’s something I’m very passionate about. I love really complex stuff.

I’m on a mission and there’s no stopping me now. I’m determined to make every hybrid training really dynamic and smooth.

Because in the world of hybrid, you have the most amazing opportunity to have worldwide access, not only to global learners, but also global trainers, experts and gurus, too, which is seriously awesome. It’s this rich learning environment that really floats my boat. I despise compromise and I feel that overworked and underappreciated teams deserve training that is totally on point and hitting the problem that they need to fix.


Although hybrid might seem like a massive compromise, it actually isn’t. If it is planned meticulously and delivered with intention and passion, the attendees, no matter where they are in the world, virtual or hybrid, should feel 100% comfortable and it should be a rewarding experience.

Leave them keen to attend your next hybrid meeting because a good workshop or productive meeting can save a lot of time and a lot of money for your organisation.

And by making sure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute will have a massive impact on innovation and employee loyalty.

This week I’d like you to try a little hybrid meeting out. Be brave. Even if it’s just one or two people that are working from home, try and be very, very mindful of their needs. Really try and be more interactive. Try and introduce an icebreaker, try to get them to raise their hand, to use the chat, whatever it is, but make sure that you’re really embracing hybrid meetings and workshops. 


So, Coco’s Communication Challenge for this week is to try it out, try on hybrid for size. Don’t be intimidated by it, be brave, be bold, try something out. And even if you only have one or two people that are listening in from home office, that gives you an opportunity to really be open-minded about hybrid and try out some techniques. I’d love to hear from you if you have some other unique and cool ways to keep track of time, for example. And what about interaction? What are your ideas around getting interaction working really well in a hybrid setting? Because I sure as hell don’t have all of the answers, but I’m really keen to learn. 


On LinkedIn, I’ll post about this podcast episode, you can reply to that post and let me know what you’ve tried out.

I’d be really keen to discover
what tools and techniques are out there that I haven’t even thought of yet. 

Coco's Communication Challenge