A few months ago, I was scheduled to give an in-person keynote at a conference in Washington, DC. I developed and practiced my content and traveled to the hotel with a feeling of excitement — I was thrilled to once again be back in person after two+ years of virtual training and presentations.

As I arrived on-site and started preparing my materials, the client approached me. It seemed that some participants weren’t feeling well and would be dialing in, while others were still working from home. I paused, realizing all my material had been prepared for an in-person audience.

Luckily, my team and I have been managing hybrid events for years. I took a breath and shifted my mindset to tap into the best practices we’ve learned along the way.

Has this happened to you? It’s not a question of if, but when. This is going to be the norm going forward, so let’s talk about what to do when it happens.

  1. Find the camera. Identify where the camera is that will broadcast you to virtual attendees, and walk around the space to get a feel for the room. How can you use body language and movement in a way that engages the audience but doesn’t move you outside the camera frame?
  2. Identify your virtual set-up. What platform are you using, such as ZOOM or WebEx? Is there a chat function enabled? Will someone in the room be able to assist you in managing the virtual component of the program? Do you have a microphone to ensure virtual attendees can hear you? Can the virtual participants speak up or are they in listen-only mode? The answers to these questions will help you understand how much you can engage that audience.
  3. Update your introduction to include your virtual audience. Make sure to welcome “those joining us remotely” and make sure they know they are full participants. Let them know how to ask questions and how to engage, based on the answers above.
  4. Adapt your content. Take a look at your material. Where do you ask questions of those in the room? Do you have any activities where people talk with one another? If so, include instructions for the virtual participants. If you included handouts, send digital versions to the attendees immediately before the program starts. Ask for the names of virtual participants so you can engage them by name.
  5. During the session, remember to include your virtual audience. While speaking, make eye contact with the camera from time to time as if it were one of your in-person participants. Move closer to the camera when addressing them, so they can see and read you more effectively. Engage the virtual attendees by name and include them in group discussions. See also How to make people feel comfortable in a virtual meeting.
  6. Finally, don’t panic if things go wrong. We’re all still navigating these situations together. Your audience will be at ease when they see that you are cool and calm under pressure. If something’s not working, you can talk through it out loud by saying, “Let’s take a minute and make sure the audio is working so that I can hear everyone. Thanks for your patience.”

An impromptu hybrid event can feel stressful, but it also gives your audience an opportunity to see you adapt and pivot, demonstrating your competence and executive presence. Embracing the hybrid setting and your audience—both in-person and virtual—will have a meaningful experience.