It’s 2019, your plane is booked, your outfits for the next three days are all planned out and packed away in your suitcase. You have a list of all of the presentations you plan on attending during the three-day pharmaceutical conference in New Orleans, and all of your lines have been practiced in front of a mirror for when you go to interview some of the keynote speakers.

Fast forward to March 2020, you are ready to do the same thing all over again and attend a three-day conference 2,450 miles away from home…until you turn on the news and hear that there’s a global pandemic and lockdown orders have been placed all throughout the U.S. You are no longer able to attend any of the conferences that have been on your list for the past 6 months.

The Adaptation

The coronavirus has drastically changed many aspects of the pharma industry. Some changes include relationships between patients and HCPs, how patients visit doctors, and especially how pharmaceutical and healthcare conferences are hosted.

In 2020, many companies were not so familiar with hosting conferences virtually, especially companies who had in-person conferences already planned out and scheduled before lockdown orders were placed. These companies had to make a quick turnaround and transfer all of their in-person information into digital materials that could be easily accessible online for their attendees.

Now that we are in 2021 and virtual events are here to stay, here are some tips on how to continue increasing your online engagement when hosting virtual events.

Create a Game Plan

When your company decides that they want to host a virtual event, there are many steps that will need to take place in order to have a successful online event.

First, think about the topic you plan to discuss, then map out exactly how the topic will be discussed and presented to your audience. This includes putting together visuals (if necessary) and inviting key speakers to speak at your event who are specialized in the topic that you are discussing. Of course, you do not need to invite key speakers to your event, but it definitely makes the event more insightful for your attendees.

The second step is to choose the right time and day to host your virtual event. You want to be sure that the day and time that you pick is suitable for the majority of your audience.

You also want to have a game plan in place for before and after your event. Before you start your event, make sure that the attendees know how to access it. Will there be a passcode when they attend? Will the registration be free? Will there even be a registration form for the attendees? It is important to also discuss what happens when the event is over. Will the attendees get an on-demand recording of the event? Will you send out a survey to your attendees asking them for their feedback on the event? These are some questions that you should keep in mind while preparing for your event.

Keep your Audience Engaged

With most communication being virtual, whether it be meetings, events, or conferences, it’s likely to be more challenging to keep your attendees engaged. You can keep your audience engaged by adding interactive activities throughout the event, such as polls, questions, and surveys.

In my opinion, the best time to launch a poll or a survey is at the beginning of the event after your introduction. This is a great way to kick off the event, setting the stage and mindset for the topic that you are discussing. Another option is to launch a poll at the end before Q/A. This is a good way to get insight into your audience’s thoughts on your event. Remember, every event is different, so be sure to include your interactive polls and surveys at the times you feel best fit your discussion and your audience.

Another way to interact with your audience is to have Q/A sessions either throughout your event or have one Q/A session at the end. This allows your attendees to ask the panelists any questions that they may have. If your attendees ask more questions than anticipated and you feel that you are not able to answer all of them during the event, you can tell your attendees that you will send a follow-up email with answers to all of their questions.

 Prepare for Tech Troubles 

After you have prepared all of your content and interactive activities, it is crucial to make sure that everything works properly by doing a test run of your event multiple times beforehand. If you do not test all functions of your virtual event, all of your hard work and preparations could go to waste.

You can test your event by scheduling at least a couple of dry runs with your team prior to the event. While you are testing, have half of your team join as attendees and the other half join as panelists. This allows you to test any polls, surveys, and Q/A to make sure that everything works properly. It is also important to test the quality of the panelists’ screens, backgrounds, and audio.

If you have a specific person on the backend who is launching the polls and surveys for the speakers, make sure that person knows when to launch everything during the event.

You may also want to go over and test everything again an hour before the start just to double-check that everything is still working as planned.

Promote the Event

Whether your events are in-person or virtual, it is always important to promote them across multiple platforms so you can gain awareness and build your attendee list. You should start promoting your event as soon as you have the topic planned out, and the time and day set.

There are so many different ways to get your event the awareness it deserves. You can promote your event through email marketing, social media, and by posting it on your company’s website. If you have any key guest speakers that are attending your event, make sure to ask them to promote the it on their social media platforms. You can even create a banner image that includes the guest speaker’s names and pictures. This way the guest speakers can include the banner image in their social media posts.

If you feel that you may need an extra boost in promoting your events, please reach out to the Pharma Marketing Network where you can get all of your pharma events promoted onto the @pharmaguy Twitter account with over 29k followers and promoted to their 12k eNewsletter subscribers. The promotion opportunities at the Pharma Marketing Network are endless!

Don’t be afraid to get creative and try out new strategies when hosting your virtual event. Virtual pharma and healthcare conferences are here to stay.