In some ways it is hard to believe that only a few months ago we lived in a world without COVID-19 and were blissfully unaware of the devastating consequences it would have on the global economy.  As nations scramble to contain the spread of the virus, a growing number of companies are cancelling all business travel, mandating employees work from home, and not allowing client visits.  At Cadence, we have seen numerous companies in the healthcare space switch from in-person meetings to virtual ones and many organizations delay or cancel annual meetings.  Some recent examples of impacted conferences include the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) cancelling its 2020 Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer in Toronto, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) canceling its 2020 Annual Meeting in San Diego, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) postponing its Annual Meeting in Orlando.  In addition, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is monitoring the epidemiology and is considering switching to a virtual format for its Annual Meeting. Although each situation is evaluated on a case by case basis, overall, this cautionary approach makes sense given the current stage of the pandemic.

Given the rapid development of technology, ease of use and low cost, virtual meetings make a lot of sense.  However, effectively using the technology can be tricky.   Cadence has conducted numerous types of virtual meetings including online advisory boards, speaker training programs, and steering committee meetings.

Based on our collective experience, here are the factors that we feel are critical for the success of any virtual meeting.  If you have specific questions about your situation contact me at sbiswas@cadenceresearch.com.

  1. Preparing moderators and participants. Given the ubiquitous nature of technology in our lives, sometimes it is assumed that participants, moderators and observers will understand how to login and interface with the platform. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.  Preparation can not only avoid problems but can also help to enhance the meeting by making certain tools known to the participant.  Speaker rehearsals can not only be helpful from a content point of view but also put every at ease in terms of using the technology.
  2. Choosing the right technology platform to keep participants engaged. It is critical to not only know which platforms are out there in terms of functionality, but also understand what level of complexity you need to keep participants engaged. Some functional features that have been very helpful include:
    1. Virtual whiteboards
    2. Live polling
    3. Live event controls
    4. Breakout sessions without participants having to click on a separate link or dial a separate number
    5. Q&A capabilities
    6. Easy to embed multimedia files

Ease of use is extremely important when selecting a platform. Understanding the sophistication of our audience and the complexity of the subject matter will help you make sure the technology isn’t over or under powered for your needs.

  1. Active webcast management/support during the meeting. Having a dedicated tech support during your meeting will allow you to focus on your meeting and not on possible tech-based interruptions. Although it may cost a little bit more, consider the money as an investment. Overall, the cost of a virtual meeting pales in comparison to the costs associated with a live meeting.
  2. Working with an experienced partner. Working with an experienced partner allows you to focus on business objectives of the meeting throughout the entire planning, execution and post-meeting phases. An experienced partner will see problems before they come up, will be able to react faster and more efficiently to problems that do arise, and ensure that key insights are properly captured.  An experienced partner can help you throughout the entire process.
  3. Ensure proper follow-up after the meeting. After the meeting, be sure to follow up with participants who may have had outstanding questions during the Q&A. Make sure post meeting communications are sent in a timely manner to continue engagement. Post meeting reports can be used to capture data needed for compliance.

Although it is uncertain when COVID-19 will peak, the need for business to continue is certain.  The effective and intelligent use of technology can certainly help. If you’d like more information you can contact me at sbiswas@cadenceresearch.com

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Author Sugata Biswas

Sugata Biswas is a Managing Principal and Founder of Cadence Communications & Research, a healthcare focused professional services firm. He has worked in consulting and market research for more than 20 years.

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