The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that virtual meetings are now becoming the new reality. We asked Paul Bauweraerts of Beyond Communication to share some key considerations and top tips to help make your foray into the virtual world a success.

Paul Bauweraerts: “Since the COVID-19 pandemic begun and the world entered an uncertain cycle of recurring lockdowns and lifting of restrictions, we are all likely to have witnessed many of our clients facing potential loss of investment, as important congresses, symposia and stand-alone meetings are cancelled. Like other healthcare communication agencies, we at Beyond Communication had the challenge of adapting the way we deliver such meetings to healthcare professionals (HCPs) for our pharmaceutical clients, with virtual meetings becoming the ‘new norm’.”


How does Beyond Communication ensure effective delivery of a virtual meeting?
PB: “There are numerous factors to consider with virtual meetings. For example, what do you look for in a platform provider? How do you ensure data security? Which time zone should you consider for an international audience? How do you ensure engagement and interactivity? And, importantly, what back-ups are in place for unexpected situations arising, such as technology failing or a speaker losing connection during a presentation?”


Can you give us some key points to consider when preparing for a virtual meeting?
PB: “First of all, it’s very important to set clear objectives for the meeting and ensure the content is relevant for your audience. Aim to use a variety of presenters and different formats suited to your audience – the presenters’ charisma should shine through. Formats can include didactic lectures, case scenarios, debates, and interview style and panel discussions. It is important to select a platform that works for your meeting: ensure it is secure, easy to use, and stable with good functionality.”


How important is the role of audience engagement and speaker management?
PB: “These elements need your full attention. Audience engagement is key, as people are more likely to multitask in the virtual environment. Use technology to build in polling, surveys, virtual whiteboards. Include live Q&A sessions and gamification to add variety. Interactivity will engage your audience and help reinforce the learning.”

Speaker management from a delivery and technical perspective is vital. Ensure speakers are fully briefed regarding the platform and test the technology and connectivity of the speakers in a dry run setting several times in advance of the meeting. Technical support that is robust and easily accessible must be provided. This should include support documents and live assistance from the host platform provider.”

“And last but not least: have a contingency plan in case of technical problems or breaks in service. Try to have pre-arranged back-up presenters available and pre-records of key presentations that can be shown if necessary, to keep the meeting running.”


Why are virtual meetings becoming the ‘new norm’?
PB: “Although lacking direct face-to-face contact, virtual meetings have enabled us to continue to access and share information during these challenging times. Whilst the uncertainty surrounding the future of physical meetings remains, we can be sure that virtual meetings will continue to expand and, no doubt, improve as presenters and companies adapt and new tools become available to enhance the overall user experience.”

“In the future, there is a real possibility that virtual meetings will run alongside physical meetings with equal standing, given the convenience they provide in terms of reducing geographical barriers, minimising our carbon footprint with less air travel and cost, and increasing outreach to people who may otherwise not have had access to the meeting.”