3 lessons learned from the return to hybrid presenting

Maegan Stephens

Written by

Maegan Stephens

You can call it a comeback — we’ve been here already.

Long before closets became home offices and kitchen tables doubled as desks, we had hybrid work environments. Maybe a small portion of your team was remote. Maybe your event brought some customers and clients onsite while others attended via live stream. Maybe an employee felt too sick to come into the office but well enough to join a virtual meeting.

Hybrid presenting – where some of your audience is in-person and some of them are virtual – isn’t new. It’s just that we weren’t very good at it before:

  • We paid more attention to the in-person audience than the virtual audience
  • We placed the camera far away from the presenter so they looked like a floating dot to the live-stream audience
  • We interacted with the colleagues in the room while forgetting about the people who dialed-in

Now that hybrid presenting is here to stay, we must do better if we’re going to have a truly inclusive, collaborative, and empathetic workplace. Here are three lessons we’re sharing with our executive clients as they transition back to hybrid presenting:

1. Never deliver a hybrid presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through–in-person or online

Duarte recently updated its Golden Rule of Presenting. For decades we said, “Never deliver a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through.” Once virtual presenting picked up, we refreshed our golden rule to include virtual presentations. Now, we’re adding another dimension for hybrid.

Speakers and event coordinators must consider two distinct audience experiences while they’re preparing hybrid presentations. Gone are the days of treating the virtual audience as secondary.

Use inclusive language

It’s easy to get excited about returning to on-stage presentations, but greetings such as, “It’s so great to be back in person!” won’t apply to everyone. Instead, reference both groups, with, “It’s great to be with so many of you in person, and to all of our remote attendees, thank you for joining in!”

Interact with both audiences

When a speaker asks for a show of hands or calls on volunteers from the in-person audience, they need to do the same for virtual participants. They also need to acknowledge the contributions of both audiences. For example, the speaker might ask for a show of hands from the audience in the room and create a poll for those dialing in. The speaker can then share results across both audiences with everyone. “It looks like about half of you in the room raised your hand, and our online results show about 50%, too.” This will take more time and effort, but will be much more inclusive.

Consider the impact of your visuals across modalities

If the presentation includes visuals, media, or guest appearances, consider how each of your audiences will consume those elements differently. You might need two different sets of outputs so every audience member has an optimal experience. For example, if you have a detailed diagram that’s easy for your virtual audience to dissect because it’s close to their screens, you might need simpler version for your in-person audience because they’re farther from the visual.

Offer unique experiences exclusive to both audiences

The in-person audience has advantages that the virtual audience does not, including networking and socializing with the speaker and other attendees. To balance that, offer the virtual audience something unique and special, too. Consider sending an email only to virtual participants right before or after the presentation, or show them a behind the scenes video that plays during a transition from one speaker to another, or offer an online Q&A via chat.

2. Hybrid presenting creates unique obstacles to overcome. We’ve been training and coaching speakers on their in-person and virtual presentation skills for years. Many of those foundational skills apply to hybrid presenting, but there are some additional challenges to keep in mind

Split your eye contact between people in the room and the camera

Be intentional with your eye contact during hybrid presentations and avoid over-indexing on one audience or the other. If most of your audience is virtual – or most of your key decision makers are – focus more of your eye contact into the camera. If most of your audience is in-person, focus more of your eye contact on them. But don’t completely neglect either audience.

Keep the content clear and crisp

Back when the majority of presentations were in person, speakers would often deliver 30-60 minute presentations (or longer). During the shift to virtual presenting, content became shorter to keep the distracted audience engaged. In the hybrid environment, audiences are still distracted. Just because the in-person component has returned doesn’t mean we should put audiences through excessively long presentations.

Check your mic volume

Vocal projection helps in-person audiences feel the speaker’s energy. But when the audience is virtual, the mic does a lot of that work for the speaker. For a hybrid presentation, speakers must strike a delicate balance. In-person audiences need to hear you, but your virtual audience doesn’t want to feel as if you’re screaming into their ears.

Be mindful of your movement

Knowing how much of your body and the stage will appear in the camera’s frame is important. If you’re used to in-person presenting in a large space, you might habitually move around the stage to connect with more of the in-person audience. But that movement might put you out of frame for the virtual audience. Similarly, planting directly in front of the camera for the virtual audience could become dull for the in-person audience.

Practice with your speaker notes or confidence monitor

Virtual presenting required speakers to talk directly into their computer cameras, and many became comfortable using speaker’s notes directly at eye level so that it looked like direct eye contact was being made with the audience. But what we were really doing was reading our notes, which was great for speakers! It meant they could avoid practicing as much. That crutch no longer exists with hybrid presentations – speakers must focus on connecting with their in-person audience once again and can’t simply read their script. This means more practice.

3. Those in-person presenting muscles might have shrunk.

Most speakers we’ve talked to are thrilled to be in front of a live audience again. But that excitement doesn’t necessarily mean that those in-person presentation skills are still in top-notch shape. Remember, you haven’t used some of these skills in years! People assume that presenting in-person is

“just like riding a bike—you never forget”. But the first time you get on a bike after years away, that ride usually has some wobbles. Plus, those existing in-person skills now need to be combined with the more recently built virtual presenting skills. So it’s not really the same at all. It’s, in fact, a juggling act of two different skillsets. Speakers need to build time into their schedules to rehearse their hybrid presentation, either alone, with a peer, or with help from a speaker coach. No matter how excited they might be about the return to a live audience, that excitement is no match for preparation.

The goal of hybrid presenting is the same as all presentations: form a connection with the audience to move them from point A to point B. But your job as a speaker is undoubtedly harder with hybrid presentations. There are now two audiences you need to connect with at the same time. But the flexibility and opportunity provided by this hybrid environment is worth the effort.