If You Struggle With Remote Attendees at Face-to-Face Meetings, Then Read This

Have you tried including remote attendees at your face-to-face Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meetings with little success? You're not alone. We have tried it at two different client meetings, based on client specs, and had what I would rate as average success. The two different call-in formats we tried were 1) a conference call bridge, and 2) WebEx with individuals who had web cams.

The Challenges

As we all know, what makes Customer Advisory Board meetings great are the conversations among members. These are lively conversations with multiple participants. When you are sitting in the room, it is easy to follow the conversation and hear all that is being said. When you are “conferenced in” however, it becomes a bit more challenging. It is difficult for attendees on both sides to tell who is speaking, people speak at different volume levels, and oftentimes several people will begin speaking at the same time, which results in no one being heard. The biggest complaint we heard from remote attendees (via bridge) was that it was difficult to follow the conversations and hear everything that was being said. For web cams, we found at times there were lags in the video and/or intermittent choppy connections.

Plan for Success

To ensure the best outcome for a Customer Advisory Board meeting with both on-site and remote attendees, consider the following:

  • Don't have the remote members attend the entire meeting, rather choose a few sessions for them to join, and structure those sessions accordingly.
  • Determine the level of participation you want from the remote members, and set expectations through pre-meeting communications; e.g. "we will ask for your feedback on X session..." or "we hope you will be able to listen in on X session..."
  • Intersperse "Q&A" time at various points in the session to request feedback from both on-site and remote attendees, and call on attendees by name so everyone knows who is talking.
  • Facilitate wisely - repeat the questions, slow down the conversation so people aren't talking over each other, keep the conversation on track so everything is easier to follow, and be sure you equally call upon both remote and on-site participants (ask questions, get their opinions, etc.).

There is one last consideration before deciding if this will work for your meeting: COST. You absolutely need the right equipment, and when you look at a video conferencing kit, a phone line to connect to the conference bridge, tech support, sound system including multiple microphones, etc., the cost can be as much as $3,000 (or even more at some meeting venues). For some, this could have a huge impact on their meeting budget.

Let us know your experiences with remote attendees, successes you've had and lessons learned.

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