Facilitation: Hybrid Workshops – Hybrid Tech

What is Hybrid?

A Hybrid MEETING is where some of the people are in a room, together in-person – while others are taking part remotely – either as individuals or as other groups of people (together in other rooms). This could cover everything from a general video conference call to a major webinar or online conference.

But a Hybrid WORKSHOP is a bit more than that – just as any workshop is more than just a regular meeting. A workshop implies much more active collaboration, working together as a whole group or in smaller groups – not just listening to presentations and perhaps asking questions.

The challenge for a Hybrid Workshop – is how you create a collaborative experience that fully engages both the in-person and virtual participants ON EQUAL TERMS?

This page is touches on some good principles for Hybrid working and then has a more detailed explanation of the tech challenges of Hybrid – and one way of managing them without spending thousands of pounds or hiring a professional AV service.

Key Principles for Hybrid Workshops

  1. Equality of Collaboration Impact The experience of those in the room and those who are remote will not be identical. However, with good design, the two experiences can be equally impactful and the contributions by both groups can be treated equally.
  2. Design for Hybrid from the start – rather than designing for an in-person event and then trying to ‘bolt-on’ some cameras and mics and calling it a hybrid workshop. For each step in your workshop, you need to consider how it will work in the room and also how it will work for the remote participants, which may not be quite the same.
  3. Resourced for Hybrid. Doing HYBRID really well and fully inclusive (not like a webinar) is not quite double the work of an in-person event – but it is at least 50% more work. You will have many elements that need to be worked through twice (materials, exercises etc). You will almost certainly need someone to run the tech, and ideally two facilitators working together to lead the in-person and the online experience respectively.
  4. Share the Hybrid ‘pain’. A Hybrid workshop requires some adaptation by the participants -compared to an event that is wholly in-person or wholly online. The default in many sessions is all the extra responsibility (or ‘pain’) is carried by the online participants and the in-person people just ‘carry on as normal’. Look for ways that that pain can be shared so the in-person people make some adjustments to their way of interacting that are for the benefit of the remote people.
  5. Tech that works.
    1. Check the WIFI in the venue is fast enough to support video over multiple devices
      OR try and get your master meeting host computer on a cable connection (so it is not sharing wifi bandwidth with participant devices)
    2. Design so that your VIDEO and AUDIO are going to work for both those in the room and those who are virtual. This is particularly important when you have a significant number of people ‘in the room’ (perhaps spread out over multiple cabaret style tables).
      Which is what most of the rest of this page is about!
    3. Test it all before the day of the event and ensure early venue access to set up and test – and the more tech you plan to use – the earlier you need to be there!

Hybrid Tech – a DIY Solution

‘Tech’ is not everything – and having the tech does not in itself create an effective hybrid participatory environment. However – if the tech is poor, then acheiving the principles listed above is made much harder, or even impossible.

The rest of this post is a guide to options for creating a working hybrid workshop tech set up that gives a good experience for both those in the room and those joining remotely, when

  1. You have too many people in the room to simply use a single conferencing unit combining mics and cameras – like the Meeting Owl or just using a laptop on a table
  2. You do not want to work with all the people in the room using headsets and their own devices to join the meeting (as if they were remote).
  3. You do not have so many people, or so much money, that you can afford a clever all-in-one unit (Meeting Owl is currently £1050) or hire professional AV solution or a venue with purpose built AV for hybrid meetings

This is about DIY solutions to Tech Hybrid that work and will not break the bank!

This is just one way of doing it that we used successfully for the UK national conference of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) in May 2022, where we had up to 35 people in the room and 40+ joining online by ZOOM. The conference plenary sessions were all fully Hybrid. We then had mini-workshops and seminars in three parallel ‘tracks’ – Hybrid / 100% Online / 100% In Person. In addition to the faciliator(s) in the room – we always had a designated ‘virtual host’ online to help the remote participants – even during breaks. Since first writing this page, I have created a ‘Hybrid-In-A-Bag’ kit for myself that contains everything in this description for groups of up to about 30 ‘Roomies’ and which I can set up in any venue (with decent wifi) in about 30 minutes.

Before we get into the tech stuff – here’s a great little video from Paul Nunesdea put together while he was at the event. It’s useful because you can see most of what comes later in this video.

Roomies and Zoomies

You need some sort of language to talk about the participant experiences is useful both during planning and in the event as there is a bit of ‘tribal cohesion’ that emerges between the groups. Lots of people use “Roomies and Zoomies” or “Roomers and Zoomers” (but that has a sort of Fleetwood Mac vs Formula 1 vibe). Teams rhymes less well with “Roomers and Teamers”. Just find something that suits you. For the rest of this web article we’ll use Roomies and Zoomies – and you’ll know what we mean.

Hybrid – DIY multiple views for roomies (optional)

If you have multiple sources of video you might want visible, this is easy for the virtual users if they have more than one computer display. They can have the video feed on one monitor so they see the people and any slides or other screen share from the main meeting host – on another.

In the room, you can do the same if have more than one projector. This can also help if you have more Zoomies than can fit on one screen. You are really only limited by how many computers and projectors (or large TVs) you can get from the venue or cobble together from organisers or willing participants.

In the IAF video you can see we had a main front-of room image from the venue’s built in projector (fed from the laptop hosting the meeting) and another computer (just logged in to the meeting) projected on a side wall with more pages of “zoomie faces” always in view. We also put the CHAT/Q&A window on this view – so everyone in the room could see it, including the person leading the session.

If the wifi is up to it – anyone in the room can also join the meeting off their own device and see their preferred view or take part in chat / Q&A as long as they do not use audio in or out (discussed later).

Hybrid – DIY multicam video for zoomies

Unless you have a purpose built venue or hire in an AV company, the zoomies can be stuck with a single camera view. Showing the whole room can be hard without a wide-angle lens and the people look very small and you cannot see who is speaking if there is a discussion session. Showing just the facilitator is rather dull for the zoomies and removes the sense of being part of the group. A professional AV company will solve this by using multiple cameras and mixing them into a single feed to go out to the zoomies.

The good news is you can bypass professional video mixing and fancy gear and still have workable multi-cam video, if the wifi in the room is good. You simply log in multiple wifi enabled devices into the zoom meeting with their camera on but ALL sound off (in and out). 

As an example – in the IAF event we had three cameras in the room:

  • A room-cam showing  whole room. The gives the ‘zoomies’ an overall sense of the room and the group – not the details or individuals. In this event is was a go-pro – plugged into the main zoom host computer, but in other events this has been another phone or tablet just logged in as a dumb (no audio) participant in the meeting.

  • A facil-cam – a phone or other camera on a small tripod inbetween the session facilitator and the roomies tables, pointing at the facilitator, and set just below their eye-line when looking at the roomies. We put tape on the floor to show the facilitator where they could stand and stay in the shot. The effect for the faciliator was quite natural – looking at the roomies at their tables and the phone. For the zoomies, the faciliator was always looking at them or close to it.
    (Image was during a test with Caroline Jessop of Clearmeetings in action – we did not normally put the facil-cam view on the projector screen in the room)
Facilitator Cam in use and image on screen
  • A roving-cam – a person with a tablet who took the mic to roomies and then showed them so the zoomies could see exactly who was speaking and their gestures etc.  We found the most natural view was not too close and not ‘face on’ (see image below).
    Below we have Penny Walker (speaking) with Helene Jewell on the roving cam
Split view of how the roving camera view worked

The zoom host or zoomies themselves can pin those ‘main views’ in their local window so they always stay in view. Alternatively the tech host can spotlight them, which makes it easy – but reduces some of your options for in-room projection (where you might run different views to different projectors).

HYBRID – DIY Audio without feedback

Many facilitators and meeting designers will make the case that for hybrid to really work, the experience for those in the room (roomies) and those joining remotely (zoomies) has to be natural and engaging for both groups.  For zoomies, wearing a headset or having their sound coming from a computer is natural, but for roomies, that means no headsets and normal talking to each other, and the sound of the zoomies coming into the room from speakers – ideally near the picture of the zoomies.  i.e. just like professional video conferencing works.

The problem is audio feedback – because the sound ‘pathway’ has a loop in it and as the sound goes round and round it gets louder and louder. Here’s how the loop works.

The ‘zero cost’, solution -suggested to us by more than one venue – is to constantly switch between:

  • Room mic ON, zoom sound (in room) OFF when roomies speak and
  • Room mics OFF, zoom sound (in room) ON when the zoomies speak

This works because it cuts the loop – but interrupts the meeting flow constantly and makes conversation less natural. Overall – the zoomies are usually the ones who then lose out.

Two (or three) steps to solving the feedback problem

There are two things you can do to fix the problem and one optional one that is not essential, but it gives some additional control.

  1. Using the right sort of room mics
    AND
  2. Turn on extra software echo cancellation (ZOOM only)
  3. [optional] An audio interface instead of the mic input on the computer

(Sound OUT from your computer (the voices of the zoomies) will either go (a) direct to the TV or venue sound system down the HDMI cable if you are using one (b) out from your headphone jack (which will then need amplification.

Before we dive into the detail – here’s the same feedback loop showing how (1) and (2) fix the problem, but reducing the amount of sound that feeds back into the loop from the mics being used in the room and by a remote participant.

1 Using the right sort of room mics

  • Most cheap external mics are ‘OMNIDIRECTIONAL’, including almost all standard lapel mics, all built in laptop mics and most headsets. They are designed to pick up the maximum amount of sound coming from anywhere nearby.  This makes them really easy to use and great for general applications, but it also means they maximise the pathways for audio feedback.
  • The solution is for the room mics to be ‘UNIDIRECTIONAL’ or to use the proper name ‘CARDIOID’ mics.  This means they pick up sound predominantly from one direction.
  • For a quick guide to this microphone types marlarkey watch the first 3 minutes of this video.
  • Assuming you can persuade the roomies to (a) remember to point the mic at their mouth and (b) keep it fairly close – a cardioid mic will pick them up and largely ignore any amplified sound coming out of the speakers in the room, including the zoomies voices coming from the TV or sound system.
  • For a quick guide to this mic pattern marlarkey watch the first 3 minutes of this video. Super and hyper cardiod, bi-directional and shot gun mics are more specialist kit and cost ££££ – and you don’t need to know about them for this application.
Image of TONOR Twin Cardiod Radio Mic Set
Example Twin Cardiod Radio-Mic set

We used this TONOR mic set it was £75 but seems to be £99 now! We used one mic for the facilitator and passed the other mic round the roomies (the mic ‘runner’ also did the roving video). TONOR also do a single (about £40-60). We chose this dual one as it has control over the mics separately (some cheaper options do not) and could provide a single (pre-mixed) sound to the zoom host computer (see how later). If your events are bigger – and you need to cover more tables with roving mics (but still not big enough to hire a professional) look for a similar unit but with 4 mics (they are available) OR you can use several sets of 2, but then you need a mixer to combine them.

Search your online store for “wireless microphone system” for various options. For this specific product search for “Tonor TW-820” BUT ensure the set is legal for use in your country without a special radio device license. This UK version from TONOR uses a legal license-exampt radio frequency band for the UK.

Other issues to think about:

  • Control the sound input/ouput in the room To make this work, you need to have full control of all the sound sources in the room and into/out of the Zoom/Teams meeting. So apart from the master meeting host computer – ALL OTHER DEVICES IN THE ROOM CONNECTED TO THE MEETING MUST HAVE (a) MIC MUTED (even if on a headset) (b) SPEAKERS OFF
  • Switching Meeting Platform sound input and output sources. When using external sound inputs and outputs (not those built in to your computer) you will need to be familiar with the sound settings of your meeting softare (Zoom, Teams etc). If this is new to you – google or youtube how to control sound inputs and outputs for your chosen tool.
    • You will need to know how change the sound INPUT from the built in computer mic to your new external source (in the image later under Echo Cancellation you can see the ZOOM setup)
    • You may also need to control where the sound OUTPUT (contining the sound of the Zoomies voices coming back) goes to – but in many venue set-ups using HDMI to connect the video projector, that will handle the sound to any room PA as well)
  • Mic gain – if you have to turn the gain (input volume) on the room mics up too high (quiet speakers, people not pointing mic at their mouth or holding it far away) you will increase the chance of feedback.  Ask people to put the mic just near their chin and speak up and clearly.
  • Amplifying the room mics in the room.  At the IAF event, we only had 35 people in the room and so the mics ONLY fed the zoom meeting – they were not amplified back into the room (the venue system could not enable it anyway).  Would it have still worked if we had had 50/100 people in the room and had needed the room mics amplified for those in the room?  Probably yes – the sound pathway would have been no different to a normal meeting so we think it would have been fine.
  • Ceiling speakers.  These put the zoom sound everywhere in the room and increase the potential for feedback.  If there are speakers at the front of the room facing one direction, and you can use those alone – do so in preference to ceiling speakers.
  • Conflict with professional venue setups.  If the venue has a built in system (that you are choosing not to pay for) they might not let you bring radio mics in that work on the license-exempt frequency band, if they might interfere with the venue radio mics (in other rooms).  You need to ask if bringing your own kit is OK, and have a back-up plan.
  • Wireless device licensing. All wireless devices work on a specific radio frequency or have a range of options). All countries require licenses to operate on most frequencies – so they can stop you picking up the local radio DJ on your TV, or your microwave oven interfering with your wifi. There are then well define radio frequency ranges that professional AV companies use – and pay a licence for – so they can prevent interference. Countries then define ‘license exempt’ frequency ranges where anyone can operate devices. Your home wifi uses one of these. So does your wireless headset or home phone. For the UK the permitted license-exempt frequencies are defined by OfCom here. You can run wireless mics that use this frequency without a license – but (a) you cannot complain if the meeting next door has the same idea – you would need to negotiate who uses which radio ‘channel’ (b) you should not use cheap lapel mics (lots on Amazon) that run on the frequency range used by Wifi or you will likely get interference OR you will be rapidly shut down by the venue IT people!
    Does it matter? Yes – if you use mics designated for sale in one country (say USA, or Germany) in another country (say UK) where the exempt bands are different – you could in theory be fined or have your kit confiscated. So be careful, ask the vendor, or ensure what you buy has the relevant quality mark on it for the country you are working in.

2 Turn on extra software echo cancellation (ZOOM only)

  • Both TEAMS and ZOOM have some built in feedback (or echo) cancellation as standard.
  • Zoom has some extra echo cancellation features that further lessen the feedback problem, but you have to turn them on as shown below (for ZOOM in 2022 – layouts may change in future versions)
    • Open ZOOM preferences and select AUDIO from left menu
    • Click “Show in-meeting option to enable ‘Original Sound’
    • Enable ‘Echo-Cancellation’
    • Close the settings
    • In main meeting view – top left – “Original Sound” will have appeared – toggle it to ON
  • TEAMS does not seem to have an additional noise cancellation setting like this – but the default echo cancellation is pretty good.
  • We tested our system with and without the additional ZOOM echo cancellation and found that while not using it we still had no feedback from the cardiod mics, turning it on removed some background noise and ambient sound.
Image of audio settings in ZOOM
Enable ORIGINAL SOUND in meeting settings under AUDIO and enable ECHO CANCELLATION
Zoom original sound ON
Back in your meeting screen turn ORIGINAL SOUND on (it’s a toggle on/off).

3 [optional] An audio interface

  • There are choices about how you get the mic sound in to the zoom host computer in the room (and you need to check you have the necessary cables to do it!).
  • The simple option is to go into the headset jack socket and in ZOOM/TEAMS and or your computer settings you select the ‘headset’ mic as your input – just as you would normally.
  • The microphone input is an ‘analog’ signal and the computer converts it to a digital one.
  • You just need the right cables…
Image of a converter cable to connect an external mic to a conmputer

You might be able to feed the signal from the mics/mic receiver  – which will be a big plug (6.5mm) direct into your headset socket (3.5mm) using a single channel adapter or lead like this. At the time of writing, a cheap is about £4.  Good quality ones are about £10-15.
Search your online store for “3.5mm to 6.5mm male-to-male mono cable

Images of a converter cable that splits the mic in and headset out signals for a computer

Safer is to use the above PLUS an adapter than allows you to split the ‘mic in’ and ‘headphone’ out signals and you put your input signal into the mic socket.  This also allows you use headphones at the same time, to monitor what the zoomies are hearing.
Search your online store for “3.5mm headphone splitter

  • The other route to convert the signal to digital format BEFORE it goes to the computer.
  • This is a box called an ‘Audio Interface’ that converts your audio sound into a USB input to the zoom host computer. Note – the audio interface will appear as a new audio input in your ‘mic in’ settings in Zoom or Teams and you need to select it for the Sound Input.
    • In the ZOOM settings image earlier – you can see the drop-down menu listing all the sound INPUTS the computer has detected. In the image the user is selecting an interface called “Black-Hole” – but it will be listed as whatever your audio interface is called.
    • You also set the sound OUT route in these menus (If using a venue HDMI send it to that. If you are sending to a PA system from the headphone socket – send to that).
  • An audio interface is not essential, but it has some advantages over a direct analog input:
    • it allows a bit more control over the level of the mic signal
    • it leaves the computer headset plug free if you want to quickly switch over to the zoom host working with the zoomies without the sound coming in to the room
    • if your audio interface is built in to a mixer, you can combine and balance multiple audio sources (several mics, perhaps a music source etc) into a single source for the computer.
    • if you are also planning to amplify the in room mic sound in the room (for larger audiences) the mixer can send a signal to the room PA system (or conversely, if there is a mixer already in use, it may contain the audio interface you need)
  • Professional units are pricey – but a small USB interface or USB mini-mixer (which includes an audio interface) can be bought for as little as £30-50 – see examples below.  Search USB Mixer or USB audio interface and check it has input for MICS (not just DJ equipment or other sources).
  • There are also cheaper options which just do the conversion from an audio or mic input to USB in a single cable, but we have no experience of these and so cannot comment on the quality of the outcome. However, you might as well use the direct analog signal approach instead if the conversion from these products does not come with the benefit of more signal control.
Images of an Audio Interface
An audio interface: Search your online store for “Audio Interface
Images of a mini-mixer with built in audio interface
Min-USB Mixer (acting as Audio Interface): Search your online store for “audio mixer USB
Caution – there are lots of mini-mixers for sale – make sure you get one with a USB-OUT (an audio interface connection)

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