By Denis Marteau, General Manager, Pharmaceutical Services at Owen Mumford
The global pandemic has seen virtual events quickly become the norm for eventgoers to safely connect with other experts in their field. This online shift has required some adjustment for event organizers and participants alike, and as we reach the two-year mark from the beginning of the pandemic, it's clear that virtual events are not going away. One global survey found that 94% of organizers are planning for virtual events in 2022, with 48% planning to increase the number of virtual events they host.1
Much like other industries, the life science industry lost out on the benefits of face-to-face events as a result of this virtual transition. What does this mean for the future of virtual events in this sector, and what can be learned from our experiences so far?
As the team at Owen Mumford Pharmaceutical Services attended both physical and virtual events in 2021, we observed many positive changes. For instance, there was significantly higher online attendance compared to physical meetings alone. This is linked to a number of factors.
Since online events tend to be less costly, there is wider representation from single organisations, rather than only sales and business development teams attending. There is also better geographical coverage as attendees can log on from wherever they are. And finally, smaller companies who may have been excluded for financial reasons are now more likely to be able to attend within budget. The reduced impact of business travel on the environment is further reason to be positive about this shift to hybrid events. However, there is still a distinction to be drawn between the effectiveness of virtual networking sessions and formal agenda led presentations.
During the first few months after the pandemic began, we surveyed professionals from top medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers, with the hope that the findings could help forge a path towards more effective and engaging virtual events. Though we have seen much to be optimistic about, as described above, we also felt that many comments from our initial survey were still relevant and had not been fully addressed.
When tailoring events to the virtual world, face-to-face methods cannot merely be transposed to the online world. While in-person networking facilitated new partnerships and new product demonstrations, which are vital to the industry, a reoccurring opinion in the survey was that networking was not yet as effective online.
One respondent commented, "What is missing from these digital events is more vivid interaction and networking. We usually attend events not just to stay informed on what's happening in the industry, but also to meet our network of partners and people we collaborate with." There is need for greater outside-the-box thinking on this aspect.
While in-person events were often an established fixture in business calendars, the time and money spent on virtual events is perhaps under greater scrutiny. There may be an expectation that virtual events should cost considerably less due to the drop in overheads, and the general feeling is that so far, many do not provide full value for money. Flexible options may help to address this, such as a modular approach where participants can pick and choose sessions.
Though eventgoers are much more accustomed to online meetings and events than they were two years ago, the reduction in interactivity also means the amount of time they are happy to spend at virtual events has completely shifted from when attending events meant being there for a full day or more. Indeed, a full day is completely impractical if participants are logging in from different time zones.
One respondent commented: "As of now, I don't feel like spending a full day in a virtual conference. A conference with maybe some workshops or informal meetings will be more appealing and feasible. Unless I'm really interested in them, I wouldn't attend more than two hours." The need for shorter durations and more interactive models is therefore key to the success of virtual events.
For instance, a live Q&A box can be used to allow real-time interaction. One event moderator who used this solution noted "…the feedback from participants was great. They felt that more questions were answered than would have been the case in a live environment!"
Many respondents also felt that there needed to be more tangible and practical take-aways from these events, to justify the time and money spent. "It all needs to be supported by data and not just opinion…" noted one respondent.
Echoing this was the need for more thought around what was presented at the events. "You have to invest more in star speakers. Normally [the thought leaders] are people from big pharma or device suppliers, or they are consultants, or they're people that work for health authorities, like the FDA/EMA, or people who have retired from positions like that and have a lot of knowledge and understanding to share."
Respondents further identified that the success of virtual events can be achieved by fulfilling the opportunities they open up for greater specificity, both in the content they cover and how they market themselves.
Overall, then, there is optimism about how virtual events could develop, but more creativity is required. For event success and attendance to match pre-pandemic levels, more effort will be needed to create events that will attract and engage delegates. Successfully adapting events to the new ways of working will be beneficial to event organizers, attendees, and their businesses, given the utility of these events for all involved parties.
In future, hybrid events may be able to tap into the value of having representatives physically present while also mitigating the cost, time, safety, and travel implications of having all attendees be present on-site.
1Kaltura, The State of Virtual Events 2022: A global survey of 1250+ organizers and attendees, Fall 2021. The State of Virtual Events 2022 | Kaltura
About the Author
Denis Marteau is General Manager of the Pharmaceutical Services division at Owen Mumford. Having worked in various roles for over forty years, he is highly experienced and has played an instrumental role in establishing the business as a global leader in the medical device industry.
About Owen Mumford
Find Owen Mumford Pharmaceutical Services’ complete report, ‘Are They Remotely Relevant? A survey of professional opinion on virtual events in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries’, here: https://www.ompharmaservices.com/news-and-resources/are-they-remotely-relevant/