I recently had the opportunity to chair Day 1 of the Operational Excellence in Clinical Trials Summit (OECT- Canada), as well as speak at one of the sessions. I have had the pleasure to attend, chair, and speak at OECT conferences previously in Montreal, Toronto, Berlin, and Munich. These conferences put on by producer KP Morgan are always smaller, more intimate gatherings, designed to foster discussion and collaboration across attendees and speakers.
I have come to cherish the opportunity to gather with a select group of industry experts across geographic borders and company types to discuss the pressing issues of the day impacting clinical research. Being smaller events, with many panel sessions and working groups, it’s hard for anyone attending to not be pulled into the discussion. That’s where the real value happens. We often went into these events as industry colleagues and strangers and came out with contacts and friends.
The OECT-Canada conference would be no different, albeit one glaring change – instead of gathering in person, the conference was held virtually. COVID rearing its ugly head again to disrupt the normal way of gathering. Honestly, I went into the event with great skepticism and some disappointment.
My Biases Are Like Our Industry’s Biases
I see similarities with my mindset and biases to the chains our industry has worn historically and as we move toward new ways of doing things. I could see parallels in the questions I was asking with those that our industry has been asking:
- Will the technology work?
- Will communication and collaboration happen in a virtual environment?
- Will quality suffer?
- Will people buy in to the new approach with enough enthusiasm and openness to give it a chance?
To my surprise, following the event, I can answer yes to most of those questions. While I still very much value the opportunity to sit down with my industry colleagues face-to-face, the virtual platform was just as effective — and in some cases more effective — than the traditional approach. Gone were the post conference drinks and dinners together. Also gone was the opportunity to shake hands or give hugs to those we know well.
The virtual platform provides many benefits:
People joined from their home office – a comfortable environment where they felt less pressure and restraint that comes with in-person sharing.
We waste a lot of time going to and from live events – sitting at airports, on planes, in Ubers, at the hotel. All those hours represent lost productivity. Instead, the virtual conference meant we could be with our loved ones the night before and the nights between conference days. We could eat food that was likely more healthy and less disruptive on our normal routines. We could wake up rested, having slept in our own bed. We could grab our favorite coffee between sessions.
Sharing and Collaborating
The platform offered various tools for collaboration. This included polling tools, whiteboards, comment sections, and areas to post questions. Let’s face it, not everyone feels comfortable raising their hand or approaching a microphone to ask a question at a live event. Often smart, curious, but shy individuals will sit silent when they have so much they could add to the discussion. The virtual platform allowed them to simply type out their question or comment and submit it for discussion. Other sharing/collaborating benefits included:
- Presentation files were shared and available for download in real time
- Attendees could join virtual chat rooms for private chats
- There was even a virtual exhibit hall
- Nobody was going to get others sick
Obviously, virtual conferences are not the same as live events. Hybrid and virtual trials are not the same as in-person visits and brick and mortar approaches. That doesn’t mean virtual conferences are a bad thing. In fact, in many ways, the new approach can be better. I went into the conference with biases about using a new platform for virtual engagement and came out with some perspective about how the new approach might very well become the standard. It was a positive experience.
Have you attended virtual conferences? Do you prefer virtual or in-person? Please tell me your thoughts in the comment box near the bottom of this page.