Open Audience healthcare events management the end of in person advisory boards virtual ad boards

Is This the End of the In-Person Advisory Board?

“The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher.” – Chinese Proverb

Breaking with what is comfortable and known is never easy, but the Covid-19 pandemic has forced us all to confront change.

In the meeting space – and especially advisory board meetings – the journey away from the in-person meeting and towards virtual meetings has been both fascinating and positive.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a lot of doubt within the life sciences and healthcare industries. We’ve had clients that were certain the virtual ad board wouldn’t work. However, we recently ran an ad board meeting that not only worked but was so successful that the client is now reconsidering whether they will have physical ad board meetings in future.

This is where an experienced meeting organiser is a critical piece of the puzzle since the success of a virtual event – and, I would argue, an in-person event – depends on several factors. These include: pre-event activities to prepare the moderators and delegates; a behind-the-scenes meeting director to assist with real-time reorienting and keep an eye on body language; and a capable moderator and moderating team. Arguably, the meeting director’s role is even more critical in the virtual space since the meeting platform focuses the host or moderator on the face before them, without giving them a view and sense of the room’s atmosphere.

In the most recent meeting, for example, in such a role, I spent a lot of my time messaging members of the moderating team, watching for body language to ensure quieter delegates had a chance to have their say or to determine where there might be problems and using the breaks to discuss possibly changing the agenda for the next session.

Obviously, it takes a little adjustment and preparation for delegates and moderators to prepare for a Zoom, Teams or other virtual platform meeting.

Nevertheless, there are some obvious benefits to a well-run virtual meeting.

1)    The cost element – having a virtual ad board meeting means the client doesn’t need to spend a fortune flying delegates around the world, putting them up in hotels and paying for food and transport to and from the meeting.

2)    The fatigue factor – instead of tired, jet-lagged delegates, in the virtual space you have people who are in their own homes or offices, alert and ready to engage.

3)    The speed component – in a virtual setting, an ad board meeting can be pulled together quickly without factoring in an extensive amount of time for the structure, the setup logistics, staging, and so on.

4)    The flexibility feature – rather than a 2-day event centred around a complex agenda, a virtual meeting can, with the right preparation, achieve the same outcomes over a couple of 4-hour sessions, delivering quality data in real time and a report presented immediately after the meeting ends.

As we settle into the new normal, it’s likely we’ll continue to see virtual meetings as well as hybrid meetings – some in-person, some virtual – and more than likely, eventually when circumstances allow, some return to in-person.

The questions we need to ask ourselves – both as clients and meeting organisers – are: Does the virtual space work better for some types of meetings, such as ad boards? Can you get better results if there is less disruption to the delegates’ – and the moderators’ – lives?

The answers to these questions, I believe, are “yes…but” – that “but” is about having the imagination and creativity to adapt to the circumstances, to prepare the delegates and moderators, to ensure delegates are appropriately engaged – preferably in their own languages – and to ensure that meetings are injected with an element of fun. So, let me offer a qualified “long live the virtual ad board meeting” to the discussion.

I believe, with the right approach, technology and skill set, virtual is here to stay.

Leslie Robertson is the Founder of 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. The Open Audience team helps to strategise and prepare pre- and post-meeting as well as providing real-time support and guidance during the meeting. Open Audience also offers customisable, multilingual engagement platforms that include interactive polling, surveys, and ideas exchange