By: Debbie Hammond and Nichola Gokool, Parexel Medical Communications
The emergence of the global COVID-19 pandemic has driven rapid change in the way that we engage, with unprecedented utilization of virtual platforms across industries. In the clinical trial landscape, virtual communications have quickly become the mainstay of interactions between clinical research organizations, sponsors, clinical trial sites, clinicians and patients.
Virtual meetings share some similarities to in-person meetings, but it’s important to identify, understand and adapt to several key differences to ensure that objectives are met. Often, the focus is primarily on selection of the virtual technology platform; however, in our experience, a great virtual meeting doesn’t happen without careful planning, intentionality and effort.
In this blog we summarize our top tips for conducting successful virtual meetings.
Plan strategically and thoughtfully
- Consider if a virtual meeting is required and if it is the best format to meet your objectives.
- Consider if alternative communication solutions could be used to achieve your objectives and meet the needs of your stakeholders. Other channels include e-learning, on-demand training, videos and infographic email blasts.
- Understand who the participants will be, how they prefer to engage and if the format will allow the right level of interaction.
- Select the most appropriate virtual platform to meet the goals of the meeting and engage with the audience.
- Careful planning of the meeting agenda is essential to ensure that the meeting is of value and is focused on the key topics. Clear objectives should be determined upfront, and decisions made about what must absolutely be covered during the virtual meeting versus what could be provided as, for example, pre-read or follow-up materials.
- Communicate the objectives and agenda to all attendees well in advance, so they understand why they are attending the meeting and what is expected of them.
Keep attendees engaged
- The meeting should be scheduled with consideration of attendees’ work-life commitments and to avoid “virtual fatigue,” ideally with a duration not exceeding 3 hours.
- Alternate the presenters and presentation format (for example, using visuals and different media such as videos) to retain attendees’ interest and attention.
- Incorporate interactive functionality (such as polling questions, white board) to maintain engagement and to confirm comprehension of the meeting content.
- Consider short micro-learning sessions to provide key information in more manageable increments.
Prepare your presenters
- Presenter rehearsals are more important in a virtual setting – you are presenting without the social and physical cues that help set the pace during in-person meetings. The presenters need to create an enthusiastic atmosphere to keep attendees engaged.
- Remember that there can be a delay in videoconference systems for some participants, so a slower pace and ample opportunity for questions is ideal. Presenters should look for opportunities to maintain a personal connection with the attendees.
- There are many resources for virtual meeting “etiquette” that can be shared with the presenters, as well as the attendees, in advance of the meeting. This can help to minimize interruptions, keep the dialogue as natural as possible and optimize outputs.
Assign clear roles
- Assign a meeting facilitator to keep the meeting on track and to ensure that all attendees are involved.
- Some attendees will be less confident in speaking out or asking questions, so the facilitator should keep a checklist of who has spoken and invite comments from the quieter participants.
- Over the course of the meeting, the facilitator should confirm with the attendees that the audio-visual quality is as expected.
- The facilitator should also summarize the key learnings and provide a clear action list at the end of the meeting.
- Assign a dedicated chat moderator to encourage questions from the attendees using the virtual platform's chat functionality. This is especially important for those who are less confident in asking questions verbally.
Test your technology
- Complete a technical rehearsal with all presenters well in advance. This ensures that the meeting commences promptly and runs efficiently.
- Issue joining instructions in advance to all attendees.
- Always have a backup solution prepared in case of technical difficulties (for example, an additional platform and technical support on hand to support with any issues)
It is likely that as people’s views about and confidence in using virtual technology change dramatically in the short term, the approach to interactions with clinical sites and investigators will be reshaped in the long term. Taking a strategic approach to planning and implementing your virtual meetings will ensure that you optimize the engagement, interactions and collaborations with your important clinical trial stakeholders.
How can Parexel support?
Parexel has developed a dedicated suite of virtual communication solutions, and our team is on hand to provide support, guidance and recommendations to ensure the success of your next virtual meeting. Please contact Debbie Hammond (email@example.com) or Nichola Gokool (firstname.lastname@example.org) for further information.