At one Pharma Forum session, a planner said her division had just turned 75 percent of its live meetings into virtual meetings to reduce costs. This is certainly not the norm as others in the session—audience members and panelists alike—said their companies were not replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual meetings, but the conversation did highlight the need for meeting professionals to embrace virtual technology.

“We have to be aware of this issue,” said Marsh. “It’s still a meeting, it’s a value we provide,” said Marsh. “I think we need to start carving out our niche in this area.” One place to start, she said, is to learn which meetings can, and likely should, go online. “You have to look at the meeting’s purpose. Is it to train, or is it to exchange ideas? Is the matter to be discussed confidential? If so, online isn’t a good idea now that people can do a screen grab any time they want.”

Meeting professionals are going to have to add effectively managing virtual (one to many) or hybrid (a virtual offering or extension of a live event) meetings to their skill sets. In addition to everything else, now planners also have to become “quasi-IT experts,” said Kalorides. In another session at the conference, third-party planners talked about the need to get in front of this trend because if they don’t gain this knowledge they will be at a competitive disadvantage.

“The method of presenting is very different,” said panelist Scott Gray, president and chief operating officer, Gray Consulting, Philadelphia, who hosted a roundtable during the conference on the virtual and hybrid meetings. “Not enough attention is paid upfront to training presenters in this different realm so they understand the perspective of the remote participant and how to keep them engaged.”

Another challenge medical meeting professionals are facing is getting buy-in from top stakeholders to move forward with virtual or hybrid meetings. “These technologies and kinds of meetings can provide significant cost savings,” said Gray, but many agreed that senior management still doesn’t embrace the concept.