At this year’s Sixth Annual Pharmaceutical Meetings Management Forum, held in Philadelphia in March, attendees gathered for a lively discussion about virtual meetings. During the session attendees had a chance to voice concerns regarding supporting and executing virtual meetings. Here are some highlights.

Language Issues

While virtual meetings can reach multiple audiences all over the world simultaneously, communication may be an issue, noted one planner. “How can I deliver a virtual meeting worldwide if there are language barriers?” she asked the panel, which was facilitated by Betsy Bondurant, president of Bondurant Consulting, Coronado, Calif.; Debi Scholar, GLP, CMM, CMP, CTE, CTT, president of The Scholar Consulting Group, Scotch Plains, N.J.; and Dax Kiger, director of strategic development for UniversalProcon, a Stamford, Conn.–based healthcare event management company.

“I have seen organizations use interpreters to translate and type out the presenters’ comments during webinars,” said Scholar. “But if you are doing a video conference, you would require a different solution.” One attendee said you could do a prerecording of the meeting and translate it into various languages beforehand. This would also allow a company’s compliance and legal departments to review the presentation ahead of time to ensure it adheres to corporate policy and regulatory guidelines. However this method requires some extra work on the part of the planner, especially if legal and compliance require changes to the presentation.
A prerecorded or “asynchronous” webinar works particularly well for investigator meetings, noted Kiger. Companies can develop a library of on-demand training presentations for healthcare providers on certain therapies that don’t change as well as standard presentations on tactical processes like how to file for reimbursement.

Tech-Savvy Physicians?

Whether participants will be able to use the technology required is also important to consider, noted one planner in the audience. “In my experience, some physicians are great with technology and others can’t be bothered. How do you deal with the different levels of technical expertise of your attendees?”

The technology can present a multitude of challenges, agreed Scholar. Sometimes people don’t understand the technology, sometimes the virtual platform is not good enough, and sometimes a particular country does not have the technology available or adequate connectivity to hold the virtual meeting. “You may have to determine how to get the message across using multiple forms of the same presentation,” she said. For those who may be uncomfortable with the technology piece, it is important to train on the technology ahead of time.

One third-party meeting planner offered another suggestion for tech-challenged attendees: Have an “online ambassador” who greets attendees at the start of the virtual event, explains how the meeting is going to work, and helps those with tech issues. “If people don’t get [the technology piece] immediately, they don’t want to participate and the event will be a failure,” said the planner.

Keeping Them Interested

Another attendee asked, “How can you keep participants engaged during a virtual meeting and ensure they attend the full length of the event?” Engagement is different in virtual meetings than in a face-to-face event, noted Scholar. It is important to build something into the presentation every three to four minutes that requires input from participants, she said—things like polling and content questions help to ensure participants are paying attention throughout the duration of the event. (See sidebar.)

Tips for Driving Audience Engagement Through Virtual Meetings

“Because virtual meetings lack social presence, such as the feeling of shaking hands, it is important to incorporate engaging activities into the presentation regardless of the meeting size, says Debi Scholar, president of The Scholar Consulting Group, Scotch Plains, N.J.

Scholar, whose background is in training and development, offers the following tips for keeping participants engaged during a virtual meeting:

1) Appeal to Visual Learners. Keep the content design varied and include different elements to stimulate the visual sense, such as a video clip in addition to the standard presentation slides. At PwC, Scholar brought in an “instructional designer” to help architect the content of virtual meetings for maximum engagement.
2) Use Co-Presenters. Give attendees the opportunity to hear different voices and different presentation styles.
3) Allow for Two-Way Communication. Allow peer-to-peer chat when possible so that attendees have the ability to share knowledge with one another. Attendees often learn just as much from their peers as they do from the facilitator.
4) Build in Informal and Formal Interactions. An informal interaction might be calling on an attendee during the conference: “Mr. Smith, what do you think?” While formal interactions can be planned activities using the whiteboard, application sharing, and polling.
5) Make It Personal. It is the virtual meeting content designer’s job to personalize the attendee interactions before, during, and after the meeting. Use a person’s name, ask questions of attendees, be supportive, and recognize that attendees took time out of their workdays to participate in the meeting.

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