Orla Weir, BSc (Hons), CIM DipM, CMC Connect, McCann Health Medical Communications, Macclesfield, UK; Ged Forshaw, APS, Manchester, UK; Andy Stewart, BSc (Hons), APS, Manchester, UK
Do you need or want to make your meeting completely or partly virtual?
Are you worried about maintaining interactivity and engagement?
How should the program look and feel?
Do you understand how technology can be leveraged to create impactful virtual meetings?
This article describes types of technology, when to use them, and how to achieve the best results from your virtual meeting.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic has created a heightened interest in conducting both large-scale congresses and smaller meetings in a virtual format. With many congresses and clients needing to cancel physical events, moving the hosting of these events over to a virtual format has become a sought-after alternative, with a fast scramble to learn the essentials to make them successful. Furthermore, in the post-COVID-19 era, virtual meetings will continue to be a key format for facilitating scientific exchange. Fortunately, there is plenty of technology and expertise readily available, which can be harnessed to make virtual meetings enjoyable and rewarding experiences for the faculty, the organizer, and the delegates.
Planning for a Virtual Meeting
Whether the meeting is virtual or physical, the same principles of good communications apply, i.e., ensure that the content is relevant to the audience and that it is tailored to achieve the meeting objectives. However, there are additional practical and technical considerations for virtual meetings. Here are a few top tips to consider upfront in your planning:
Types of Virtual Meetings
There are several types of virtual meetings. The following are considered in this article:
- One-way broadcasts – presented to many delegates either live or on-demand
- Two-way meetings – connecting small groups of individuals together for real-time discussion and collaboration
- On-demand webinars – most virtual meetings can be recorded for later on-demand viewing
- Hybrid meetings – a combination of broadcast, on-demand, and two-way meeting formats
It is important to choose the right type of virtual meeting to achieve the meeting objectives. The following criteria should be considered when making this choice:
- Is a live (real-time) meeting required?
- Is a moderator required?
- Are the faculty in one or more locations?
- Will an on-demand version be needed?
- Will the content need to be repurposed for other channels?
- Is it necessary to synchronize slides with audio?
- How many people will be attending?
- Is this primarily a broadcast or is audience participation required?
- Do delegates need to see and hear each other?
- How will attendees be invited/attracted to the meeting?
This type of solution is generally chosen for a high-profile meeting in which excellent quality is required, e.g., the recent American College of Cardiology (ACC) meeting.
Here is an example scenario for a high-end solution live webcast:
- The audience comprises >250 attendees
- Audience or topic is of high importance
- A real-time meeting with a moderator is required
- The faculty is in one or more locations
- A combination of slides, video, and audio is presented
- High quality/high definition (HD) is required
A live webcast is a meeting broadcast to a remote audience in real-time, for example, a short standalone meeting or symposium. This is a one-way transmission with audience participation limited to question-and-answer (Q&A) format, using a chat function and polls. Where the faculty is co-located, panel discussions and debate formats are possible.
The faculty can be filmed in a studio location or in their individual offices. The presentations are beamed back to a central hub where PowerPoint slides, audio, and video of the presenters are packaged together and displayed as a composite video broadcast in HD. Onsite technical support and ideally a camera crew are required.
In addition to the high-end solution above, there are plenty of off-the-shelf, entry-level solutions. These solutions are easy to use, but they do not offer the same level of video or sound quality as high-end solutions. Examples include Zoom Webinar and Go-to Webinar. These platforms can be used to stream HD video and audio. Delegates can submit their questions via a chat function. As above, live technical support is recommended to ensure the faculty are fully supported and the technology performs well.
Virtual, interactive, two-way meetings are only recommended for smaller groups when a high level of two-way communication is required, for example, an advisory board, a publication steering committee meeting, or a training event.
Here is an example scenario:
- Approximately 50 delegates will attend
- The meeting is live, with a mixture of plenaries and breakout groups
- A high level of interactivity is required, including Q&A sessions
- All locations can present slides
- All delegates can be seen via webcams
- There will be virtual breakout groups to discuss specific topics
- Virtual networking before and after the event is encouraged
Pre-reads and a pre-meeting survey can really help to inform the discussion in a two-way meeting. A top tip is to have a moderator facilitate each virtual breakout group.
The technical team is very important for meetings of this type, and technical support is highly recommended. The technical team ensures that all participants can see and hear each other. They combine the webcam images into a picture-in-picture format on a branded background. They also orchestrate the breakout sessions, ensuring each “room” has access to the correct virtual workmats and tools, including whiteboards, post-it notes, and sorting tools. Example platforms include Zoom, Adobe Connect, and WebEx.
Figure 1. APS virtual meeting control hub
One great example of an on-demand webinar is the ISMPP U Archive, which houses recordings of live ISMPP U webinars. On-demand webinars are used when:
- Presentations are pre-recorded
- Content is already reviewed, edited, and approved
- The webinar needs to be available on-demand at any time
- Slides should be synchronized with video
- A hosting environment is required
- The quality is dependent on how the content has been recorded, e.g., using a film crew with broadcast-quality content versus recording presentations using webcams
An on-demand webinar is a very useful way to extend the reach of live broadcasts or as an alternative to a live event. In a recent benchmarking survey by ON24,1 57% of views occurred during a live event and 38% happened on-demand (see Figure 2 below). This on-demand option is important, particularly at the present time when healthcare practitioners may be too busy or unable to attend a physical event. However, while the on-demand format extends the reach, the disadvantage is that there is no live interactivity.
Figure 2. Percentage live and on-demand views for webinars, according to the ON24 Webinar Benchmarks Report 20201
There are several types of hybrid meetings. These tend to include a combination of live broadcasts, virtual two-way meetings, and/or on-demand meetings. The particular format will depend on the specific requirements of a meeting.
Here are three example scenarios:
- A virtual two-way meeting with approximately eight faculty members, all presenting live from different locations. The meeting is simultaneously broadcast live in a one-way webcast to a large audience.
- A meeting comprising a pre-recorded plenary presentation given by a key international expert, followed by live presentations given by regional experts who provide a local perspective. The meeting is broadcast to local audiences. This format has the advantage of bringing the international expert (pre-recorded) and the local experts (live) together to create an engaging top-class faculty.
- Hybrid meetings can support live presentations from several physical hub locations (like example number 1). However, each hub can also have a live audience that can engage locally and in real-time with the presenter(s).
Enduring Resources and Measures of Success
Virtual meetings present several key opportunities, one of which is that virtual meetings are a great source of enduring materials that can be leveraged and shared post-event. Another is the application of metrics. Anything digital can be measured, so virtual meetings are a perfect platform to be able to directly measure, in quantifiable terms, the impact of an event. These learnings can then be used to make improvements for the next virtual meeting.
Metrics may include:
- Number of attendees
- Which sessions they attended
- Drop-offs (where and when attendees left the meeting)
- Online questionnaires to assess the usefulness of the content and the quality of interactions
- Post-meeting surveys to gauge the intended or actual behavioral change as a result of the meeting
Now, more than ever, the use of virtual meetings needs to be embraced. Meetings offered in a virtual format provide opportunities to engage with large audiences and the technology exists to bring an inspirational faculty and an engaging program to life. Furthermore, the success of these events can be directly measured, allowing for continuous improvement and refinement. As always, start with the objectives, develop engaging content, and deliver it with impact using the right technology and the right partners for your needs.
- ON24 Webinar Benchmarks Report 2020. Available at: https://www.on24.com/resources/assets/webinar-benchmarks-report-2020/