Dealing With the New in the Virtual World
“There are two ways to extend a business. Take inventory of what you’re good at and extend out from your skills. Or determine what your customers need and work backwards, even if it requires learning new skills.” – Jeff Bezos
The world has changed dramatically in the past 9 months for the meetings world.
As we adapt to different situations, expectations and questions, we have found our skills are taking on a new relevance, and organisations are increasingly seeking out the expertise and knowledge of engagement experts.
As our clients have developed new needs, they have increasingly turned to us for support and expertise. They have found that they don’t have the technical and logistical skills to manage virtual meetings, and they are looking for partners with extensive virtual experience to guide them through a radically different environment.
Perhaps one of the most positive outcomes from the transition to virtual events has been the way it has disrupted business-as-usual. Over the years, healthcare companies have held so many medical communications-type meetings that all too many had become rinse-and-repeat events. There was very little innovation and creativity.
As advisors specialising in interactivity, sometimes we struggled to get the message on audience engagement and audience education across to our clients.
Now, however, organisations are actively seeking out our advice because of our expertise in running virtual events. We are being listened to more, which we believe will only help to make healthcare meetings, events and sessions more productive and innovative.
While we have extensive engagement experience, we have also been on a journey of discovery as we adapt to the needs and expectations of clients. And as we continue to learn and gather new insights on what works and what doesn’t, with different preferences and evolving technologies, we take those discoveries and share them with our clients.
The result is that the knowledge base continues to grow, both internally and externally with our clients and partners.
Bringing new insights
We are also finding that our advice is sought in areas we don’t necessarily work in. For example, we don’t typically produce promotional email invitations for meetings, but we do know what does and doesn’t work. Therefore, we’re increasingly part of that conversation, offering our advice on how to encourage people to register.
We’re able to offer insights based on our own experiences, from how to manage the unpredictable, to how to adjust meetings with unexpected audience sizes. For example, if you were expecting 400 delegates but only 60 turn up, how does that affect your faculty? Does it change the experience in a positive or negative way by making the session more or less engaging?
Collaboration is integral to meeting engagement and is baked into our approach at Open Audience. As I discussed in an earlier blog, we see ourselves as part of the “Dream Team”, and as such we are collectively gaining more experience in terms of how to deliver a truly differentiated virtual experience. We’re sharing our experiences both externally with partners and internally with colleagues during meeting debriefs.
For example, beyond the logistics and audience experience, there are also compliance and security issues that must be clearly communicated in virtual meetings. I advise med comms agencies about the compliance code, such as ensuring delegates watching from public spaces use earphones so that only they are listening.
That ticks a box in terms of making sure members of the public can’t overhear. As a result, the med comms agencies we work with are adding a reminder, saying, “Thank you for joining, please put headphones on to give you a better listening experience and to ensure the discussion is not overheard.”
At the start of Covid-19, we thought that there would be far fewer meetings, but in fact the opposite was true.
We are busier than we have ever been, working with more clients to set up more virtual meetings. That’s partly because it’s easier to produce and set up virtual meetings which don’t require travel, in-person rehearsals, and logistics around the physical space – so we can offer our services to more clients.
Companies are also adjusting their budgets since hotel, travel and other similar expenses aren’t incurred in a virtual environment. An example would be converting a 1.5-day standalone meeting into a series of 10 webinars held over 2 months.
As a result we’ve improved another important skill, resource management, and I’m proud to say we have excelled at it, because while we’re busier than ever we have never had to turn business away. And that all comes down to experience, being well- organised, building good partnerships, and continuously adapting our capabilities as we learn more about the virtual world.
Pedro Malha is Commercial Director at Open Audience, an audience engagement consultancy that specialises in making life sciences meetings more engaging with more positive, successful outcomes – whether in-person or in the virtual space. Open Audience helps clients strategise and prepare pre- and post-meeting, as well as providing real-time support and guidance throughout. Open Audience also offers customisable, multilingual engagement platforms that include interactive polling, surveys, and ideas exchange.