October 18, 2016

Several years ago the idea burst onto the scene that virtual meetings were going to turn the industry on its head. Headlines promised us that virtual and hybrid meetings would all but replace face-to-face meetings. They would be better than conventional meetings and they would be the biggest cost savings idea since free meeting room rental.
In fact, virtual meetings did see a big upsurge, especially when the economy took its downturn starting in 2008. Construction was pretty much halted on new hotel builds and organizations were looking for ways to squeeze more value from their events with the bare minimum of spending. Another contributor to the rise of virtual meetings was global security. Companies were searching for an alternative to traveling to / from meeting venues yet needed to keep their employees and customers engaged.
Virtual meetings promised an answer with reduced cost, reduced risk and maximized efficiency due to elimination of travel. Global organizations with employees located regionally were able to stay connected and collaborate with just a click of a button. For meetings that involved healthcare professionals (HCPs), the interest grew because they too were trying to balance a growing patient workload. Being out of the office for continued learning or education seemed less and less appealing.
HCPs found from experience that traveling to and from a meeting and being out of the office for extended periods of time meant a backlog in patient appointments, a missed opportunity to fill the practice’s schedule, and stress. Ease of use became increasingly important, too, as HCPs’ demand for education and communication with their patients increased. The option of virtual meetings meant that HCPs were now able connect with their colleagues or manufacturers for an hour or two to hear the latest intel on drug approvals or advancements — all without leaving the office. For the life sciences industry, virtual meetings provided an opportunity to engage more HCPs not able to travel due to country compliance regulations, and to disseminate information quickly and or glean feedback. These dialogues saved time and resulted in getting drugs to market more quickly.
So with all of these great benefits and potential savings, why are face-to-face meetings today more important than ever? Why is it that meeting spend, occupancy rates, and travel spend is higher than it has ever been and continues to grow. The hotel economy is booming despite the high costs of food and beverage, labor costs and the global safety and security issues. The time should be ripe for virtual meetings to make a greater impact, yet organizations are slow to adopt and implement virtual meetings.
An idea for discussion here is the generational preference of employees today in this tech-heavy world where every employee under the age of 60-70 has lived with a cell phone and most of them with smart phones. Employees today are flooded with technology at work and at home. Perhaps with all this technology, the craving for human interaction at conferences or meeting is too great and too impactful for them to want to replace that with a virtual program? Even as organizations continue to look for savings, reductions in travel and meeting spend, and focus on global security; will their employees drive the need for face-to-face interaction?
There is more than enough data out there in the world to suggest that face-to-face engagement is still the most effective way to not only convey a message, idea, or encourage interaction, but it is also the preferred method for most people to learn. Organizations are wise to use the face-to-face conference or meeting to engage employees and make the most use of that time to allow them to learn from one another. Information is retained more when employees have a shared and memorable experience.
The quandary shared by many life sciences organizations is how can virtual technology continue to be used to not only advance medicine and thus improve healthcare, but also reduce the spending on meetings and travel and continue to provide value. The opportunities for savings and minimizing the risks with travel are too great to not look at virtual meetings as a viable and effective solution. A three phase approach can help in navigating this puzzle.
Phase 1 — Analyze
Organizations first need to determine their needs, including the demographics of employees and attendees to determine their attention span and familiarity with the technology. What types of meetings will fit best into a virtual meetings program? In the life sciences industry meetings that are part of a series fit nicely into the virtual environment where attendees have already met and know one another. Short, quick feedback sessions work well as do one-way communications to simply disseminate information. The success of Virtual Meeting programs depend on how well an organization understands their needs so they can design accordingly.
Phase 2 — Design and Implementation
Once an organization identifies what their needs are they can begin to design a program, implement a strategy and then communicate that strategy to their employees and attendees. Organizations need to determine their vendor partners or what technologies and support they will need. A critical component of the success of the program is effective communication and understanding of expectations. Attendees should understand the process of virtual meeting engagement, be familiar with the technology, feel comfortable engaging virtually and be expected to participate. The most successful virtual meetings are ones where the attendee feels engaged and learning has occurred.
Phase 3 — Continuous Feedback and Improvement
Once the organization has communicated to the attendees and they have gone live and begun using virtual meetings, they can look for continuous feedback to improve and measure their success. Determine the savings, key learnings that needed to take place, attendee satisfaction and perhaps how you can improve the process.
As the life sciences industry evolves and regulations and compliance continues to increase, virtual meetings technology will need to keep the pace and continue to improve and support the requirements needed for tracking and reporting on interactions with an HCP.
Is there a perfect balance of virtual and live face-to-face meetings? Perhaps there is…
If you have a recommended approach to qualifying when a meeting or program should use a virtual platform or face-to-face interaction, we would like to hear from you. Email us at info@ahmdirect.com.

Contributed by:

Lisa Keilty, Global VP of Compliance and Strategic Solutions, AHM

Lisa joined AHM after serving as founder of the Compliance Consulting firm PMC2 and spending over 26 years in the life sciences and meeting management industry. Leading such organizations as Pfizer, Bristol Myers Squibb and Biogen Idec through numerous international projects, financial transparency and reporting requirements, Lisa’s industry expertise has saved Life Sciences and Meeting Management organizations over 30 million dollars. As a member of the Business Development team, Lisa’s primary focus will be Thought Leadership, Demand Generation and Solution Design.