The past 15 months have been a constant state of preparation. We prepared to close our doors to customers, prepared for lockdown, prepared for a completely virtual program and now we are preparing to reopen our offices to support a new era of hybrid work.
Like many others in the briefing program industry, as Poly prepares to reopen our doors to in-person customer visits we are wrestling with important considerations: How do we create and implement successful hybrid staffing models for our briefing program? What program resources or staffing roles does our organization need to fill?
We tackled these questions at the recent virtual conference for the Association of Briefing Program Managers (ABPM). For this event, I co-led a session with my esteemed colleague Pamela Evans, an experienced briefing program leader. Together, we hosted a discussion that focused on resourcing and staffing briefing programs amid COVID 19.
What is a Hybrid Briefing Experience?
During the presentation, Pam and I posed questions to the group that we felt each program manager should ask themselves, such as: “What does ‘hybrid’ mean to you?” Since, when it comes to briefing formats, a hybrid can mean many different things. For example:
- all-virtual meetings
- all in-person meetings
- guests in-person with presenters joining virtually
- presenters in-person with guests joining virtually
- A mix of all the above!
If briefing managers focus their energy on finding the answer to what “hybrid” means to them and their company, it will be much easier to identify briefing program goals and successfully execute on strategy in a hybrid working world.
To me, hybrid can be all the above. However, what you can do successfully depends on the technology you have available for use. Poly has always had the capability to do a hybrid briefing experience program. We manage virtual experiences and in-person experiences, as well as experiences where some customers and/or presenters join virtually while others are on-site.
Now as vaccination rates begin to climb, I am seeing diverse actions across how my industry peers are organizing their briefing program resources and staffing. Many companies are not looking to open their doors to in-person engagements for quite a few months. They have successfully moved to virtual briefings and plan to stay virtual for the foreseeable future. Other companies, like Poly, are ready to open doors a bit sooner (in accordance with local health and safety regulations).
If your organization wants to do a hybrid briefing experience program, be prepared to staff up a team that can handle more complex scheduling and management logistics. In our case, Poly requires our experience managers to have a deep understanding of our products and how they are configured, so we can effectively run demonstrations for all meeting participants, no matter where they are located.
Cementing the Role of the Facilitator
If hybrid experiences are where your briefing program is headed, the role of the facilitator may need to evolve too. Traditionally, briefing facilitators are tasked with hosting the in-person guests and managing the flow of the day. In some briefing programs, including the one at Poly, briefing facilitators also conduct product demonstrations.
Organizations will need to decide if the facilitator should also be responsible for managing the participants on the video stream and the associated technical aspects of the meeting, such as setting up the dial-in logistics, keeping up with the chat, and helping remote participants with technical troubleshooting. It is a lot to take on.
When I asked the group at the virtual conference about the evolving role of the facilitator, some of my peer organizations worried that it would be difficult for a facilitator to manage all of the in-person and remote aspects of the meeting successfully.
My perspective is that it’s possible, given the right tools and training. At Poly, our facilitators manage it all. They’re able to do so because we see the onsite group as equals to the people who are joining on video. The key is for the facilitator to be trained on modern meeting tools and technology, which may include managing the chat to share questions and comments to engage all meeting participants and encourage conversations among everyone, regardless of their locations.
Briefing program directors should consider the extra workload that comes with a hybrid briefing approach, as sometimes it may require having two people staff a briefing, instead of one. One party to manage the technical logistics and a second to enable the conversation both in the room and online.
A New Role: Production Manager
Video conferencing is not new. Many companies, and quite a few briefing programs, already use the technology. However, systems are often set up in one direction, where guests face a camera that is mounted above or below a screen at the end of the room. However, if there is a presenter in the room, they’re often standing with their backs to the camera and monitors, which gives remote participants a sub-optimal view of the main speaker. There’s a better way to set up video in a briefing room so that participants, remote and in-person, have meeting equality. (As an example, check out the new Zoom Rooms Smart Gallery.)
For companies not already entrenched in video conferencing, the idea of integrating dedicated multi-directional video into a customer briefing can be daunting. But if your goal is to host customers on-site and still allow for virtual participants, it may be necessary.
The discussion at the conference then turned from whether to build or upgrade the room to figuring out how best to manage it. That’s where the idea of a Production Manager came into focus because while many of my peers have IT support, most do not have dedicated video support.
While video conferencing products have become very user-friendly, the small staff of Briefing Programs will likely still need a Production Manager to help with the video equipment, whether it’s in one room or many. Here are a few of the avenues through which my peers have found a Production Manager to support the video equipment portion of their briefing program:
- Corporate IT
- IT video operations division
- The executive support team
- Training an existing dedicated engineer to support video too
If you’re planning to implement multi-directional video into your briefing program, don’t forget to identify a Production Manager to help manage and support it.
Learning From Each Other
Overall, my experience co-leading a discussion for the ABPM community was a great learning experience for me. My view of how to operate in this hybrid world is based on the technology at my fingertips and the goals of my program. After all, by using the video equipment in this way, we are simultaneously presenting its value. However, my peers who run other programs have different business drivers, which brought about other key learnings and new technology needs over the past 15 months. It was refreshing and educational to learn more about the creative ways they have found success through the pandemic. I look forward to seeing how our programs evolve in the years ahead.
Renée Niebylski is a leadership representative with the Association of Briefing Program Managers and the Director of Poly’s Global Experience Program.