My coworkers encouraged me to write down some of my observations and lessons learned from our client interactions, account meetings, and project meetings over the last year. Considering, from the perspective of an event manager, what my in-person to digital meeting journey has been and how that specifically translates to the technology checks that must be completed in order to create a successful virtual meeting – I hope you enjoy it.
Prior to February 2020, I worked as an account manager who focused on in-person meetings. Like many others, I had to quickly adapt to the changes brought about to meetings by the COVID pandemic. I was fortunate to be able to quickly join a market leader in virtual meetings for the healthcare sector. Not everyone was so fortunate, and I hope that those who are still considering a career can find inspiration in this part of my story.
For those that are interested in a career in virtual meetings, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about our open positions.
The Technology Glue to Stick the Day to Day Together
CVENT is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of meeting technology – technology number one #1 on my list – over the years I have become an expert in using the platform for budgeting, meeting approval, venue search, and registration for single or multi-meetings as part of SMMP (Strategic Meetings Management Process) initiatives. Though some of CVENT’s features are less useful for virtual meetings, the approval tool, visibility on meeting activity, registration, and connectivity with VEEVA, #2, and Salesforce, #3 are extremely beneficial. Understanding VEEVA #3 at a deeper level than before the pandemic has been criticized as “clients have been forced to quickly adapt their compliance processes and policies to account for the increased volume of virtual meetings“, particularly where regional and national variations in regulatory codes must be taken into account. Google Drive is the #4 technology, and it is where we securely store all of our compliance policies, client-specific variations, and project checklists. What would an event manager do if they didn’t have a checklist?
Is this cheating? But technology #5 is GMAIL and #6 Asana, which is part of our global project management process, and #7 Slack, our internal messaging system, where I can bore those in colder climates with the stories of my Florida sun!. Given that we have a number of locations operating across multiple time zones, I’m not sure how we’d make the multi-meeting, multi-language programmes work without instant-messaging tools.
Moving from Physical Spaces to Virtual Spaces
As time has passed, meeting professionals have realized that attempting to replicate all of the unique features of in-person meetings, in the virtual realm, is sometimes impossible. The key is to focus on the virtual and plan out what you want to do before connecting the format and best technologies to that plan. “Avoiding the attempt to replicate the distinct nature of a physically attended conference alleviates a great deal of stress for our stakeholders“. It takes time to dissect each agenda item and connect it to new ideas and technologies, but the effort is well worth it for the programmes that migrate online most successfully.
This isn’t to say you can’t take some of the physical and do it better online. For example, how many hours have you spent walking around an exhibit hall looking for those you want to talk to, to find they are always occupied? Our crowded hallway sessions in Zoom #8 provided appointment setting and data access at a recent event so that every stop by a participant created value for them and interesting data to clearly demonstrate the preferences of participants, generally and by specific segments. Although we couldn’t quite make a virtual cup of coffee, it was fun to provide a series of codes to allow participants (we apply the relevant code and company policies for HCP meetings) to stock up on Starbucks and other goodies prior to the meeting. Demonstrating that you have considered the participants, even with a fun light touch, goes a long way toward gaining their support for a digital environment.
Some may be surprised that I haven’t jumped right in to cool new tools (whispers – which don’t always deliver on their promises) in this section. We like to be funky, but we also need to be practical from time to time. Virtual spaces that have been approved by corporate IT can be a limiting factor. In that case, #8 Zoom, #9 Teams, #10 Cisco Webex, and #11 Adobe Connect are still frequently the IT-approved safe havens for many digital meetings, and when combined with a central hub have given me the ability to develop a programme that combines the best of techniques and multiple technologies that participants are unaware of.
Some video streaming platforms frequently fail to keep up with the pace of new formats and our client’s expectations and, in the majority of cases, struggle to present brand or meeting theme imagery in a way that resonates with participants, unless you create splash pages or more complex meeting dashboards. It’s similar to holding a launch conference, but with only a screen in the main meeting room and no branding, lighting, or other elements to enhance the meeting’s visual character. You wouldn’t do that in-person so why do it online? That’s why, and this is where I’ll give a shout-out to our development team. The #12Intempio Hub can be extremely useful for a meeting that wants to be more than just Zoom, providing a branded environment with multiple rooms as well as access to engagement techniques and data collection.
A central hub for a user to browse live and on-demand content now appears to be a must-have, but this does not reshape the on-screen experience when streaming speakers or other content. In early March 2020, it was prohibitively expensive for every meeting to increase meeting production, and believe me, I was asked. Using technologies such as #13 vMix, among others, was a way to add an extra dimension to how participants saw television-style techniques, engaging with content, and provided speakers with a more dynamic set of tools that quickly proved to keep the attention and lift meetings from….. “another zoom meeting”, now to something entirely different.
We see a different picture in November 2021, with sophisticated solutions now within the scope of most budgets. Take a look at #14 Presenter + and our #15 Virtual Studio, which explains how to integrate advanced techniques into virtual meetings better than the written word… That means I won’t have to turn to one of our technicians to explain.
Multi-session meetings, without a doubt, benefited from a single location where attendees can access their personalized path through tailored content, see on-demand material, quickly locate help, and immerse themselves in the branding or meeting theme that is so important to the overall value of a meeting. Not just Intempio has these immersive environments; we have used #16 notified by intrado, #17 inevent, #18 Socio, #19 Spotme, and one of our favorites a solution built the healthcare sector specifically in mind #20 Zone VS which you can see here in demo form among many others, almost too numerous to mention, each with their own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Some platforms may be too complex or lack the functionality to meet healthcare compliance requirements, while others may fail IT testing, and yet others may lack the right combination of features such as networking, single sign-on from internal intranets, or HCP portals. This relates to what I said earlier about mapping out what’s needed. “If you do a good job mapping, you’ll locate the suitable platforms quickly. If you do a poor job, it will be more difficult to adapt as the needs of the meeting undoubtedly change.“
Exciting Stuff when you can’t have a Reception or Apéro
We frequently hear healthcare professionals signing off after a digital interaction with the comment. “We’re sorry, but we won’t be able to join you for a quick drink to finish the meeting as we normally would”… It has a wistful tone and is significant. We’ve all missed that relaxed moment to reflect on the day, as well as the gold dust of serendipity that comes from a casual conversation. It’s frequently where we form deeper, more lasting bonds.
So, what are your alternatives? There are a number of options available depending on the audience group (internal or external) and if it is appropriate to compliance policies.
For internal groups, one idea is to organize a cocktail-making half-hour, which is a lot of fun. Especially since kits can be sent out ahead of time. Meaning, the physical, in the form of the kit, meets the virtual, in the form of the virtual meeting. With travel and “being in-person” relaxing in many parts of the world it means a prominent member of a leadership team can visit a studio with a mixologist, providing entertainment for those who like to cast this scene from the sofa to the TV; whether the notable person can mix or not (more usual), it doesn’t matter. Well, maybe to the prominent person it does! This is an excellent example of how television or WebTV tactics are finding their way into everyday digital encounters. When lockdown began, the cost of technology and its dependability simply did not exist.
How do we go about actually doing these things? Technologies such as #13 vMix and #21 OBS Studio provides us with amazing options for manipulating presenters, panelists, video, and other content into sophisticated programmes, but be aware that these platforms require experienced technicians. We simply couldn’t do it as cost-effectively in the early days of lockdown as we can now. The task now is to familiarise meeting stakeholders and presenters with all of the features available to them.
So, what does this all mean to the practical delivery of non-meeting activities? Well, this is simply one idea, focused on fun and replicating the idea of relaxing into an activity that makes you smile.
Techniques for Internal and external participants can merge, where compliance policies allow, in the use of #22 Remo or #23 Gatherly. Networking spaces for groups to gather quickly and flexibly as you would meet new people at the close of a meeting, a drinks reception, or a coffee break. It may take some time for participants to adjust to the format, just as it may take some time to locate meeting rooms on a floor plan, but when speakers and panelists are available to participants in less formal settings, this breakdown of perceived barriers occurs very quickly and can compensate, to some extent, for the lack of physical interaction. It all comes down to planning, mapping out what you want to achieve in terms of experience and content sharing, and then selecting the format and tools to meet and exceed these requirements. And, finally! Meeting stakeholders are increasingly open to the use of actors to combine meeting messaging with entertainment, as I mentioned earlier with the use of television tactics. Simply put, make the most of people who are experts at being in front of a camera. We were able to do this successfully prior to the pandemic with physical conference hosts, evening entertainment slots (for internal groups of course), and in-meeting room scenarios, scripted segments, and stage performances to highlight key messages. Despite the fact that it isn’t a technology, the transition from physical to virtual in this format has been much easier than it appears. Although cost and creative time may be a consideration for using actors for every digital interaction, “the ROI factor can be compelling when you cleverly turn the tables on participants’ expectations” by bringing a staged drinks reception / apéro and similar activities, immersed in business messaging, into the virtual world.
What do you do when there isn’t a physical flipchart?
To be honest, I’m only now realizing the value of a flipchart and the opportunity to bring a conversation or a group’s thoughts to life in a controlled or spontaneous manner. It was simple to stick flipchart paper on the walls (using approved hotel sticking materials, of course), with participants moving around to add their contribution, followed by a session to summarise key takeaway messages or actions. We’ve almost certainly all planned or participated in something similar.
Would this format translate to the virtual world? Well, the answer is yes and with impressive results in my experience.
Advisory boards and investigator meetings were popular options for digital meetings prior to the pandemic. Adobe Connect, in particular, used multiple room formats with virtual whiteboards like #24 Klaxoon or #25Miro, which are pretty much direct replacements for an actual flipchart to generate consensus, commitment, and involve all voices in a meeting – the key to success is practice. For some, using this type of new technology is just that – new – and mastering the approach can take some time, but those who can, as we have seen, create an advantage in terms of generating engagement and results from their digital meetings.
My Top Trumps of Virtual Meeting Technology
A colleague compared the number of tools we use regularly and those we are considering for future use to a game of Top Trumps (I had to look that up – the wrong generation), but it made sense. A diverse set of tools has quickly emerged to meet a variety of needs in response to the tsunami of technical development at Intempio, as well as creative ideas from others. But why are top trumps used? Because we, probably like you, use a consistent set of criteria to evaluate each technology. We must determine “what solves what” and “who is the best in class.” Hence the reference to Top Trumps with some cards scoring more highly in some capabilities than others.
And this is where we make a jump in the number of technologies.
Of course, we have favorites, which are listed in this blog, but to get to a core group of 10-15 technologies, we had to evaluate #000, and that number is expected to grow as new solutions enter the market and our clients become more comfortable with pushing boundaries. We have over 40 currently on the tech dev teams to-do list as I write. That being said, my favorite is, of course, our #12 Hub, but looking beyond our solutions, I really like the collaboration applications because they use the best technology to generate tangible outcomes from meetings.
So, if I had to add another external technology, I’d choose #24 Klaxoon. Why? Because, after supporting hundreds of virtual meetings, it’s clear that those that allow for a two-way conversation are the most valuable. This is how speakers feel, and evaluations back it up, with meetings like advisory boards and brainstorming sessions consistently ranking highest in terms of how well participants understood the content and how they will apply it in, say, clinical practice. I’d also like to make a special mention of #25 mmhmm#27 XSplit and #28 Filmora. All three focus on developing the speaker and participant experience when streaming presentations. This is all a little secret though ………….
So, as I suggested in the title of this blog, my colleagues and I must perform 000 technology checks in order to provide the best tool for the required results, and these checks show no signs of stopping, with new tools from Intempio and others entering the market every week.
I’m very lucky
Why is this the case? Because I am not solely responsible for ensuring the relevance, technical components, and stability of the numerous technologies that we now rely on every day. That is the job of the Intempiotech boffins!
Face-to-face meetings were frequently complex with many moving parts, but virtual meetings can now be just as complex for a variety of reasons, including tech checks, building confidence with content providers and speakers, and motivating participants to participate and by clicking “join meeting” rather than waiting as an event manager in an in-person setting, for the text message from the airport stating that flight 123 from Singapore had landed with 5 rather than 6 people and the 6th is a speaker that afternoon. Yes, even face-to-face meetings had their challenges to overcome!
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