Let’s talk: Virtual meetings (in healthcare)

Things were so much easier in 2020 BC (before COVID-19):

“A client wants us to organise a workshop? No problem! We’ve arranged loads of similar events before. We’ll use our experience, follow our tried and tested formula and then tailor the content to meet the specific requirements of this event…”

[Cue a global pandemic shutting down vast swathes of the economy and forcing large areas of the planet into lockdown. The reality of 2020 AC (Anno Coroni) suddenly hits home.]

“… Ah, this is not going to be as easy as we’d imagined! What do we need to do now to make this a success??”

That was basically the internal monologue of Madano’s Healthcare practice leading up to what would become a two-day virtual event for 80 internal stakeholders working in Alzheimer’s disease, with participants scattered around the world from Brazil and Europe to the UAE and Australia. We weren’t entirely sure how we were going to get this one over the line, faced with such unforeseen circumstances and pressures, but we love a challenge, and get it over the line we did! Here are the lessons we learned along the way.

Be engaging!

As you can imagine, the event’s virtual setting presented a whole new set of considerations and challenges to overcome, and we wanted to ensure that the event was engaging and fun for everyone sat in their home offices, living rooms, kitchens, and even childhood bedrooms for those who locked down with family!

We began by circulating a survey among participants to help us plan the event in a way that would be of most interest and use to those attending, as well as requesting their current location and time zones (as many people were locked down in areas outside of their offices’ cities!) to help with the scheduling.

The survey also enabled us to determine the type of content attendees would like to be included in the sessions, with a mix of workshops, co-creation, information-sharing and training sessions. In addition, we asked attendees to indicate whose perspectives they would most like to hear – whether neurologists, caregivers and family members of people living with Alzheimer’s, or team members for best-practice examples.

The end result included neurologist and Alzheimer’s specialists’ perspectives for two of the sessions; fortunately, we were blessed with a group of personable, energetic and passionate presenters, so each session produced a lot of interaction and questions from the audience. Making sure your presenters are enthusiastic and able to transmit that enthusiasm to those listening is important for any event, but it’s almost mandatory in a virtual environment.

Another tip that we’d offer is to include an unexpected but relevant addition to your event to surprise attendees and maintain their interest. We did this in the form of a digital illustrator who sat in on the first day’s sessions, producing sketches of each session’s content, and then presented the illustrations back to the audience on the second day. Aside from providing a very creative way to summarise the first day’s discussions for attendees, those illustrations will now be used as a follow-up to produce an infographic tracing a patient’s journey through their condition and the team’s goals to help improve this. A short break for a team scavenger hunt – finding every day items around their homes in the fastest time – also added a very enjoyable element to the second day.

Make it personal!

Prior to the meeting, attendees were asked if they’d be willing to share country-specific experiences at the event (nine agreed) and their personal experiences with the disease (four were willing). We also asked employees to provide a 10-second video clip of themselves stating a pledge they wanted to make for the future – either patient-focused or within the business. These clips were compiled into a video shown at the start and end of the event, and individually hosted on an internal team platform (which we also completely rebranded and reformatted in preparation for the meeting).

Some presentations used videos and photo montages to tell very emotional stories. These poignant personal narratives, of parents and grandparents who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, demonstrated the real passion that this team has to keep patients at the heart of every discussion (and made both the clients and our team shed a few tears!), especially during a meeting otherwise quite focused on expertise and strategy.

Lessons and recommendations

At the end of the meeting, we circulated an evaluation survey to determine what had worked well and identify areas where we could improve future events. We were pleased to discover that all respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the meeting had met their expectations in terms of content, was well organised, and the sessions were relevant and useful. Encouragingly, many felt that the virtual format was as effective as if the meeting had been face-to-face, a positive step for the new world we live in.

Our recommendations for similar virtual healthcare events would include sharing more best-practice examples from internal employees, including more time for Q&A sessions and giving plenty of emphasis to the patient and caregiver voice. As the organiser, we would also advise having more sessions that are shorter in length, with more frequent breaks in between (even if only for a few minutes), to allow the audience to refresh and maintain their concentration levels.

And finally, as anyone who’s been working remotely for several months now will tell you, anticipate technology not always working in the way you had planned and try to come up with an alternative for when it does… and when that happens, above all else, keep calm!

By Sam Marshall, Programme Manager, Madano Healthcare.