The future of medical meetings: Leveraging the potential of hybrid events

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With travel restrictions continuing to ease after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s great to see face-­to-­face opportunities to meet industry peers, colleagues and clients on the rise again. However, while this change is welcomed, the past two years have seen huge innovation in virtual technology that has extended the global reach, accessibility and measurability of many medical educational events – benefits that our industry wishes to build on going forward.

At Porterhouse Medical Group, we believe the future of medical meetings and events lies in a hybrid approach that recognises the benefits of face-to-face networking while embracing the improved access and reach of virtual technology. If run correctly, a hybrid approach should allow participants to engage with events they might never have been able to attend in person (whether for time, cultural or physical reasons), therefore considerably increasing the diversity of the speakers, experts and attendees, and consequently the connectivity of an event.

Also, at a time when the environmental impact of travel has never been more important to consider, the hybrid event is a step towards a more sustainable means of staying informed and connected while reducing the carbon footprint of the industry. Hybrid events allow attendees to make informed choices about where and when they travel. If an event is to take place where sustainable and low-impact travel options are possible, participants can choose to attend in person. Conversely, if such travel options are not available, attendees can still participate fully online.

However, one of the biggest challenges surrounding hybrid events lies in the adaptation of the on-site event into a virtual experience with all the opportunities and benefits of attending in person. The ideal hybrid event should seamlessly connect on-site and virtual participants, providing an excellent experience for all attendees regardless of their location.

Following a recent, successful, three-day hybrid event, our expert team has provided some key takeaways to help achieve this.

Before the event: Briefing and communications

  • Ensure marketing communications for the event are sent out early and regularly to the target audience and stakeholders
  • Ensure your team is fully briefed and each team member has a to-do list covering their separate tasks to prepare, whether working on-site or on the virtual elements of the event
  • Assign teams to different areas of the event (stages, sessions, chats, registration, expos, etc.) so that each element of the event is covered
  • Supply guides for attendees, speakers and sponsors to show each type of stakeholder how to get the best results from the event or how to provide a first-rate experience at the event, either from an in-person or virtual point of view

During the event: Integrate participant activities 

  • It’s important that virtual participants are not considered to be ‘add-ons’; designing specific activities as part of virtual sessions can build interaction and allow virtual participants to feel they are attending an event with others, rather than passively observing a room of people.
  • It can be quite dull to sit behind a screen watching presentation after presentation. Therefore, to maintain the engagement of virtual participants it’s good to vary the types of elements used as part of their sessions. Examples of different elements include live Q&As, which provide virtual attendees the opportunity to interact with speakers, and quizzes, where face-to-face and virtual attendees can compete against one another.
  • Integrating virtual participants into face-to-face activities (where possible) will ensure they have the optimum experience, for example, enabling virtual participants to watch key sessions as they are streamed live from the face-to-face venue.
  • In addition, broadcasting key presentations from both on-site and virtual speakers to all attendees will allow every attendee to access sessions that are of interest to them.
  • Breakout sessions can be designed for virtual participants so that their experience is similar to that of face-to-face attendees and to ensure that time spent virtually attending the meeting is time well spent.

During the event: Integrated networking

  • For many participants, the chance to meet and exchange knowledge with industry peers is a key objective of event attendance. Therefore, it’s a good idea to set up opportunities for attendees to network with one another whether attending virtually or in person.
  • Identifying appropriate and regular breaks in the schedule will encourage participation in networking and provide opportunity for discussions during these breaks, adding value to the experience.

During the event: Working across time zones

  • The hybrid event format allows attendees, speakers and clients to freely engage with information, communities and conferences at a global scale. Therefore, another key consideration is the timing of the live event to achieve the best fit with the time zones of virtual participants.
  • It’s also helpful to make session recordings available as soon as possible so that attendees can catch up before a workshop or the next day’s events despite different time zones.

After the event: Insights and recorded sessions

  • To gain valuable insights into what worked well and what didn’t, send a feedback survey to attendees segmented into different sections for on-site and virtual participants.
  • Sharing event recordings of speaker sessions and information will help keep the event experience and learnings alive. These recordings can also be sent out as an ‘added extra’ or packaged into an alternative product.

As with all communications, the way we interact is changing, and embracing new technology is allowing more freedom and more flexible connections that safeguard our health and planet. Hybrid technology is allowing medical congresses and events to be more accessible, more engaging and more sustainable than ever before for everyone – both virtually and in person.

As scientific and medical communications experts, Porterhouse Medical Group delivers scores of successful virtual, face-to-face – and now hybrid – events for our global pharmaceutical clients every year. Our approach combines strategic thinking with the latest digital technology and scientific expertise to transform medical meetings and events in innovative ways.

Please get in touch if you would like to hear more about our approach or if we can help you with your latest hybrid event. We would love to help!