by Chaitna Kuchinsky
When congresses were live, the audience got more out of a symposium than just what was on the slides. There was networking over the dinner buffet, the glass of wine, and the opportunity for face-to-face interaction and engagement with key opinion leaders (KOLs) about their thoughts and their practices. Now that congress attendees are pouring their own wine while watching from afar: how do we inject that same feeling of interaction and engagement into a virtual symposium?
The format of the program matters. Most HCP audiences particularly value the Q&A and panel discussion sections of a program, as this is where expert opinion and experience turned abstract data into actionable clinical insights for their practices. In a virtual setting, however, much of the intimacy and collegiality of a live meeting can be lost. But that doesn’t mean all of it has to be. Conversational roundtable or debate formats, the incorporation of polling or presentation of short snippets of pre-recorded content with longer live Q&A, and panel discussions in virtual studio settings can help simulate the atmosphere of a live meeting for a viewer at their desk or couch. These formats can also help to keep the attention of attendees who may otherwise become distracted by email or multitasking.
Of course, the content and speakers are still key to making the audience feel engaged, no matter the format of the program. The topics should match the audience’s interests, regardless of whether they are more clinically focused or scientific, and they should always take advantage of the presenter’s knowledge to add context and depth. The speakers must still be well-known and respected KOLs, but in the virtual setting there is also a need to consider their technical capability and communication style. Some speakers have the skill to make even a recording feel like a conversation, and other great podium presenters can fall flat when virtual.
But what about taking advantage of the virtual world versus just trying to recapture that live meeting feeling? There are still other ways to try to increase audience engagement. Although the ability to attend congresses without leaving home is undeniably convenient, attendees in far-off time zones watching the archived content on-demand miss the opportunity to interact with the speakers. Asynchronous platforms could enable the audience to ask questions of the speakers even when they can’t attend the live Q&A and help build even more relevant panel discussions that are effectively co-created with the audience. Perhaps the platform could open several days ahead of the scheduled program, allowing speakers the opportunity to address the collected questions during the live session, which could also be watched later. There are also opportunities for post-meeting touchpoints to extend the experience beyond the congress and foster continued engagement by driving attendees to other properties and educational resources developed by clients.
Over the course of 2020, the pandemic forced congresses and, consequently, our industry, to quickly adapt to a new way of communicating while rethinking the approach to engagement. Since the future of congresses is likely to reflect some hybrid of live and virtual, it will be more important than ever to find thoughtful ways to keep the attention of everyone – in the room and at home.