Lida has been organising conferences for more years than she cares to remember, in her days back with GSK and with Desouza Associates. She has worked with several medical and also non-medical clients organising their conferences for them.
With the coronavirus pandemic hitting the world, Lida was asked by a regular medical client to assist them in organising a virtual conference on SARS-CoV-2 (the scientific name for this particular coronavirus).
So she would like to share what she has learned over the last few weeks….
To kick off I would like to say that obviously, I am far from being an expert in this area, just on a steep learning curve!
One of the reasons they’re considering a virtual conference is because all the global experts involved in this area of medicine are at present saving lives in their respective countries or working on other scientific aspects of the disease, and would be too busy to travel. Further, with social distancing, who knows when people will be travelling again anyway, so it was felt this was the most effective and inclusive way to hold one of our annual conferences, on this ‘hot topic’. By holding a virtual conference, there are no geographical limits and everyone, speakers and attendees alike, can participate from their own office or home and join via their laptop, desktop or tablet. Virtual conferences obviously have no size constraints either!
Another added bonus to not holding a ‘live’ conference at the present time is the much reduced impact on the environment and reduction in carbon footprint. Let me share an example with you: a delegate travels to a conference in Berlin on a flight from London, which is 1,900km and we can see just how much of an impact one person has.
This information from MyClimate.org clearly shows that holding just one conference nearly uses up one persons’ entire carbon footprint allowance for one year.
I contacted a number of companies who organise virtual conferences and the platforms used by the different companies does vary quite considerably, as does the cost, and seems to depend on the individual platforms as well as the stability of accessing the conference (bandwidth).
Matt Francis from Procreation ran me through a demo of their system. I will try and explain their platform, as best I can, but just to flag up that this is my explanation, in my language!! I will break this down into three areas: presenters, attendees, event planner/organiser.
From the presenters’ perspective, they provide full technical event management. So what this means is that your speakers/presenters have access to the services of a ‘Producer’ to assist with best practice, plus 3 crew members in the studio, one of which is the overall Producer of the virtual conference. There is the option to play pre-recorded presentation videos, if this is your preferred route.
As an attendee, the platform provides a secure email and password login. Participants can ask questions of the presenters or chair via an on-screen Q&A application. A Moderator has access to the platform to see all the questions being asked and is able to filter/group these questions, as necessary, before sending to the chair or presenter. If specific key delegates need to be brought in ‘live’ by video or audio, this can also be done, if pre-planned.
From the event planners’ perspective, a Custom Virtual Meeting microsite can be created which would include a bespoke registration page, presenter biographies, event agenda, the facility for all presentations to be available on demand to watch post event, delegate feedback forms and also download options for key assets such as slide decks.
The event planner will have full access to the CMS (Customer Management System) where all the above details can be edited. A live polling facility is also possible, which may or may not be useful – some may regard this as a distraction during presentations but it can also be a very powerful tool if handled correctly.
Data and analytics on the conference are also available to the event planner, which will provide information such as the type of devices used by delegates, how long they attended the virtual conference for etc etc.
One final comment I would like to make is about the pricing strategy for virtual conferences, which is obviously an important question for planners. While it is very difficult to generalize and every event is unique, my view is that attendees should be charged, albeit a reduced fee compared to a live event, as there are costs associated with putting on the virtual conference.
I still have a long way to go in terms of my knowledge on virtual conferences, however I’ve made a start! I don’t think virtual conferences can fully compete with the interpersonal networking which goes on during ‘live’ conferencing however they do provide a very good alternative and perhaps a great way to engage and share, in the short to medium term, and it’s going to be the safest way forward, whether we like it or not!