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Consider these factors if you want to be a more inclusive speaker

Simple strategies like setting reminders to make eye contact can go a long way to engaging everyone you’re speaking to, especially in a hybrid environment.

Consider these factors if you want to be a more inclusive speaker
[Source photo: wocintechchat.com /Unsplash]

Remember the days when everyone who was presenting, and everyone involved in a discussion, was in the same room? That was straightforward. Everyone could see the speaker, the slides, and the other people. Maybe there was a written agenda or other handouts.

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Think back to the depths of the pandemic when everyone involved in the discussion was on a teleconference. Everyone had the same view. The chatbox was open for side conversations, everyone could see the slides, and handouts were sent electronically. It was easy enough to know who was in attendance and, also know when someone had left the room.

Now, large and small companies are urging their employees into the office. Some come in every day, some a few days, and some not at all. Events and meetings include people who are physically present and people who are working from remote locations.

The hybrid environment offers a whole new host of challenges in our swiftly evolving workplace. When you are planning a hybrid event or meeting, take into consideration how you will engage with in-person and remote colleagues at the same time, how participants will see each other, and how you will deliver your message.

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How are you going to engage?

Whether you are giving a speech or leading a meeting for a hybrid audience, plan how you will engage all your participants. “To the extent possible, develop connections with other presenters, moderators, or attendees before the event to reduce the stilted nature of a virtual or hybrid event,” recommends Heather Higginbottom, president of the JPMorgan Chase Policy Center.

Actively greet all your audiences at the beginning of the meeting. “Routinely check in by calling on remote participants so they feel connected to those in the room,” said Michele Gonzalez, director of Client Development at Baker McKenzie. Leaders should explicitly invite virtual participants to engage through the chatbox, polls, and non-verbal feedback buttons.

Whether you are presenting to a hybrid audience or speaking in a hybrid meeting, be intentional about making eye contact. Your instinct will likely be to look at the people who are in the room with you. If you are speaking from notes, add in reminders to look into the camera lens not just at the beginning of your presentation, but at various times throughout. This will help to include the remote participants in your hybrid event.

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Tag a colleague to monitor remote participation and raise some of the online responses at an opportune moment. In a meeting, pause to specifically ask remote participants their views and invite them to speak. For a presentation, “loop in pre-recorded videos from people not in the room and use a large playback screen or two in the space to run the videos for the people in the room,” advised Beth Singer, principal at Beth Singer Design.

How are you going to see each other?

During my career at the U.S. State Department, we regularly held hybrid meetings between Washington, DC, and embassies around the world. Often this means a group of people around a table in DC, with a large screen at the end of the table. On the screen, there may be one table of people, or several squares with multiple agencies joining in. The static camera view of the table is helpful for seeing the whole group and knowing when participants come and go.

This is an upgrade from the old-school conference room with one telephone in the middle that may or may not pick up everyone’s voice. However, even with better technology, this view is not always good for recognizing individuals because such a wide lens causes everyone’s heads to look the same. Once, in a meeting between the White House and an embassy, we were a few moments into opening remarks before we realized we were talking only to the video of our own selves on the screen!

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Invest early in in-room systems or room solution teleconferencing equipment with voice tracking cameras that encourage a hybrid environment. The more each system is capable of focusing the camera and the microphone on the person who is speaking at any given moment, the better.

A lower-tech solution is for each participant, whether they are in the room or remote, to join the same video conference on their laptops and keep their cameras on. This allows remote participants to better see who is in the room. All participants should mute themselves when they are not speaking so they don’t create an echo effect.

However, if everyone has a laptop open to participate, you have to assume you are losing attention to incoming emails, team chats, etc.,” Erin Fuller, president of Association Solutions at MCI USA, pointed out. “You may need to set more frequent breaks, like the last 10 minutes of each hour, in exchange for gaining focus in real-time.”

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How are you going to deliver your message?

Whether you are speaking to a live, virtual, or hybrid audience, the most important part is that you deliver your message. Start by engaging your audience. Tell a story, mention a pertinent news event, or ask a question upfront to draw in their participation.

Decide ahead of time the points you want to make and the outcome you want to achieve. State the bottom line or goal upfront. Illustrate your points with examples that bring your message to life and keep the attention of your in-person and remote audiences. “Before you speak, think about how you feel about the topic, not just the facts you want to convey. The audience tends to remember a message delivered when they are able to connect to the speaker’s passion as well as their expertise on the subject,” shared Ashley Wilson, the vice president of Congressional & Public Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Finish with your recommendations, next steps, or a call to action. Even if you are just sharing information, when you are speaking, you always have a goal. Consider how your content will impact the people who are listening. Develop your narrative to shape how they will receive this information.

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Our world is changing and adapting to circumstances around the pandemic and to new employee expectations about where and how they should work. Employers’ responses vary widely, from those that are giving up physical office space altogether, to those that are reducing office space and encouraging hoteling or hot-desking, to those who deeply want their employees back in the office full time.

The key for people who are speaking, presenting, pitching, leading meetings, and otherwise pursuing their goals through public engagement in a hybrid environment is to continue their focus on engaging their audience and delivering their message to all the participants.


Eileen Smith, the founder of Spokesmith, is a public speaking coach, former diplomat, and keynote speaker.

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