Making the Most of Virtual Conferences: 5 Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings

COVID-19 has forced many organizations to make a rapid shift to virtual meetings; this transition has been a challenge for many pharma and medical companies. There’s no doubt that in-person outreach has unique advantages, but virtual meetings have become the default plan for the foreseeable future. If your organization has struggled to adjust, it’s time to take a close look at your virtual strategy.

The right tools and techniques can help your team make the most of online meetings. With the right strategy, your organization can leverage virtual tools to their full potential. Virtual meetings provide a cost-effective method for networking and gathering information. Consider the following tips for organizing virtual meetings within the medical industry.

Choose the right contacts
In-depth planning helps make your meeting a success. During the spring and summer, many organizations rushed to move their operations online; this rapid change may not have allowed your organization much time to prepare. Creating a strategy saves time and money – careful planning allows your organization to focus on forging connections with recognized experts.

If you’re planning on reaching out to healthcare providers (HCPs), develop a game plan. First, target the right individuals. Identify HCPs who are tech-savvy and open to your message. HCPs who are already comfortable with virtual tools make the best contacts; these experts are already comfortable arranging meetings and networking online.

Take time to consider whether your contacts are already familiar with your company. Virtual meetings work best when HCPs have a positive, open-minded attitude. If your contacts are reluctant to hear your message, it might be best to wait until you can meet in person.

Virtual meetings are often less expensive than in-person meetings, but they still require time, money, and employee investment. Make the most of these resources by identifying providers that are likely to be responsive.

Set clear, actionable goals
Attending a meandering, disorganized meeting is always a frustrating experience, and unfortunately, virtual tools sometimes fail to keep attendees’ interest. Attendees trapped behind a screen may be tempted to check email or browse online; using meeting time efficiently helps keep your attendees focused and engaged.

Before the meeting begins, set goals. Ask what you want to communicate, and determine your priorities for this meeting. Next, create a checklist of topics targeted toward your goals. Make sure to consider attendees’ concerns or pain-points in advance – every discussion has potential areas of friction. Take the time to plan solutions in advance.

With virtual meetings, attendees sometimes feel disconnected from one another. It can be difficult to read tone, expression, and body language through a screen. To make the most of your meeting time, your attendees need to see that you’re engaged and well-informed. Research can be invaluable here; keep up to date with the latest scientific data. Before your meeting begins, ensure that you have accurate information at your fingertips. Then plan how to access your notes during the meeting without disrupting the video feed.

Identify the right technology
Painstaking research and careful planning are useless if your technology fails. Technological glitches can bring your meeting to a halt; these delays are frustrating for participants and make your company seem unprofessional. Fortunately, you can keep your meeting on track by choosing the right vendor.

Look for a vendor that provides high-quality virtual meeting tools. Where possible, opt for vendors who specialize in medical content. These vendors often offer a centralized platform that allows for seamless discussions. Attendees can access and share up-to-date information without switching between platforms or programs.

The best tools also feature comprehensive technical support – a robust tech support team can resolve glitches quickly. Your company can also prevent delays through rigorous employee training. If your team spends the meeting struggling with an unfamiliar platform, it sends a negative message to your contacts; attendees may receive the impression that your company is disorganized and underprepared. Make sure your team can use their virtual tools with skill and confidence.

Before the meeting begins, always test out the platform. Brief participants on how to log in, and tell them who to contact if they run into trouble. Whenever possible, develop alternate plans for attendees who have sudden technological failures.

Keep employees focused and professional
By now, many workers are accustomed to daily virtual meetings; still, it’s best to establish a consistent protocol and review it on a regular basis. Ensure that each employee understands the best practices for virtual contacts.

Attendees should join the meeting from a quiet, well-lit space. Even if employees are working from home, professional dress is a must. Ask employees to limit background noise and distractions, too. If your participants are logging in from a busy home, suggest a white-noise machine. Noise-canceling headphones can also help employees give the meeting their full attention.

Look for platforms that offer specialized tools
If you’re in the market for a new platform, you’re in luck – plenty of tools are available. However, most platforms aren’t suitable for medical or pharma organizations. Popular tools like Zoom may not offer rigorous privacy. Free or low-cost platforms also typically offer a limited number of tools. If you opt for a generic platform, you may miss out on valuable features.

Consider the following essential features:

Moderation
Moderation tools are vital: a moderator limits distraction and helps streamline the discussion. Whenever possible, opt to have meetings moderated by a subject matter expert (SME). They can plan breakout sessions and lead small group discussions. SMEs can even organize virtual networking between participants.

Skilled moderators maximize the effectiveness of your meeting; they ensure that participants achieve their individual goals and stay connected. If you’re considering a new platform, look for one that supports robust moderation tools.

Audience response system (ARS)
An ARS helps streamline the discussion by allowing for rapid responses. These tools help your audience stay engaged and allow discussion leaders to quickly gather feedback and insights. An ARS keeps audience feedback in one centralized location, preventing data loss. If you’ve been relying on clunky feedback methods, it’s time to switch to a platform that offers ARS.

Follow-up discussions
Once the meeting is over, your job isn’t done. Keep in mind that valuable interactions and networking often take place after the presentation ends. After a virtual meeting, attendees can’t chat in the hallway. You can help them stay engaged, though, by using tools that allow for an informal discussion.

The bottom line
Many participants still prefer face-to-face discussions, but virtual meetings can help bridge the gap and keep your team engaged. They allow your organization to stay connected with HCPs and gather vital information. With the right preparation, virtual meetings can become a rich resource.