How patients can make a real impact with virtual events

by | 13 Jan 2021

The pandemic prompted patient organisations to go digital, but many lacked the know-how to host high-impact online meetings. Now, faced with ‘Zoom fatigue’ and shrinking resources, a free webinar series is offering patient organisations tips on creating engaging events 
Many patient organisations have been using online meetings for years: slowly but surely, organisations have embraced video calling for connecting internally and begun using conferencing tools for larger meetings. 
However, few were prepared for a wholesale shift to digital meetings sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The change was sudden and urgent. Advocacy and scientific meetings are central to the work of patient groups and are often a key source of revenue. 
‘Very few organisations had the IT know-how or resources to manage big online events,’ recalls Elena Balestra, Membership & Capacity BUilding Manager at the European Patients Forum (EPF). ‘It was difficult to navigate the many available tools, and there were challenges in platform accessibility for some target groups. To navigate this new world, training is in high demand.’
It has taken time for organisations and individuals to adapt, and many are still working to make online events work for their audiences. 
‘The discussion around IT literacy and technical know-how has increased, along with growing attention to how it affects people,’ says Chi Pakarinen, Programme Manager at the Synergist. ‘There is Zoom fatigue, the anxiety of being on camera, worries about not being engaging enough or getting your message across – I’ve heard so many partners say they need a short and concise checklist to help them prepare.’
That is why PFMD and EPF have teamed up with Sean Baulk of GCO Meetings & Events to develop the HIVE-33 webinar miniseries. HIVE stands for High Impact Virtual Events and promises to take viewers through 33 essential questions that all organisers should consider when planning their online meeting. 
It is full of tips and tricks designed to address the needs of the patient community. In each session, Chi and Elena follow Sean’s tips in real-time to help viewers see how they can be applied. The goal is to illustrate how users can ‘learn by doing’. [Watch the first episode]
Sean says the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation and reshaped the relationship between patient organisations and pharmaceutical companies. ‘We saw the importance of supporting patient organisations by taking the knowledge we have and transforming it into practical tips that can help them to keep up to speed with digital communication.’
The HIVE-33 series offers a deep exploration of how to avoid fatigue among audiences. The cardinal rules include ensuring sessions are as short as possible and engaging attendees at every opportunity. 
‘Keeping people locked in for hours might have worked early in the pandemic when everything was new. Now, nearly a year on, it’s difficult to grab and keep people’s attention for a long time,’ he says. ‘Q&A sessions, chat functions, live polling and breakout rooms can help boost interactivity.’

Mastering online events is essential for organisations large and small, particularly as they may become a fixture of our post-pandemic world. Elena Balestra says the attractions include lower costs, greater accessibility for people with reduced mobility and for those that cannot travel. ‘It offers the possibility of reaching out to more people at lower costs, but it is important to have a sense of making real human connections.’
This is echoed by Chi Pakarinen who says webinars are here to stay if organisations can use them to develop online communities. ‘The numerous online meetings that I’ve had to participate in the past year have confirmed to me that online “seminar” types of webinars are a thing in the past,’ she says. ‘More and more, you’ll need to focus on how to keep your audience, how to interact with them and how to maintain that engagement even after the session.’
The next episode of the HIVE-33 series will be broadcast on 15 January. Register here

Tags: training

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