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March 4, 2022

How to run a successful virtual conference for medical events

The life science industry relies heavily on a steady stream of information and interaction between various health care professionals, including medical affairs teams, HCPs, and health tech teams.
successful virtual medical conference

The purpose of medical conferences is to create a session for industry professionals to meet other experts across a range of fields, stay atop the latest medical and technological advances, present their research, and further their professional development and training.

In response to the recent pandemic, medical conferences have gone virtual. And while this new format results in some significant challenges for event organizers, it also makes these conferences more accessible and inclusive to medical professionals worldwide.

Want to know how to run a successful virtual conference for medical events? Let’s look at some tips for creating successful virtual conferences.

Set clear goals

Although a virtual conference is a live event held online, it should still look and feel similar to an in-person conference. That means you need to have speakers, breakout sessions, community engagement, and other facets that make event attendees excited to participate.

But not all conferences are held for the same reasons and goals.

Articulate a clear purpose

Before you begin, your first task is to establish the underlying purpose of hosting the event.

Is it to educate professionals? Focus on a specific medical specialty or technology? Collaborate with other medical agencies? Showcase new medical device products? Topics learned from huddles in healthcare that reveal patient concerns?

Maybe this isn’t the inaugural event, but it is the first time it will be offered virtually. Even so, you need to understand the fundamental intentions and goals for the virtual conference, as these will dictate how you plan, host, and run the live event.

Consider the audience

You know what you need to accomplish with your online conference, but it’s also important to consider who will be attending.

Ask yourself and your key stakeholders: what do you hope your target audience will gain from the experience?

Knowing this will make it easier to target and market to the right people. It will also enable you to strategically plan digital touchpoints that align with delegate expectations.

Examine the data

Goals become far easier to accomplish when you can use metrics to inform decisions.

How do you plan on measuring the success of the online event? What are the metrics and KPIs you’ll use to gauge its impact? Whatever the answer, you’ll need to configure your data collection methods to measure the achievements of your session. Digital engagement manager Laura Smith notes:

“The ability to collect data from your conference is a critical factor in proving the value of the event and whether it was a success. Measuring engagement and capturing attendee data for your event or stand is the only way that you can prove the ROI of the event and understand more about your audience and engagements.”

Pharmaceutical and medical device companies are increasingly looking at lessons learned from the application of healthcare business intelligence and applying it to business intelligence in pharma. Many life science teams use insights management technology to help identify, engage, and analyze input from conference participants. Data gathered or compiled in these platforms comes from a number of channels, including everything from one-on-one conversations with HCPs and other experts, dialogue at large medical congresses, social media platforms, and other sources. Because these channels are so disparate, observations gathered from them can end up siloed and important insights can fall through the cracks. But technology like social media listening, network analytics, and virtual engagement platforms can assist life science teams in being more efficient and effective in gathering and organizing insights for critical decision-making.

Offer an engaging virtual experience

A virtual conference must stand on its own merits. Therefore, every aspect of the process should be centered on the experience of a virtual event attendee. Even though attendees won’t be there physically, it’s vital to work towards crafting a high-value conference experience, especially since you won’t have the benefit of the unplanned interactions and advantages that come with an in-person event.

As you plan, consider the following elements:

Presenters and key speakers – Who are notable figures within the industry who will draw in an audience and get them excited to attend? Once you’ve identified a key guest speaker, work closely with them to curate their presentations so that they cater to a virtual audience. To that end, encourage them to include an array of visual content that fosters engagement, including:

  • Videos
  • Images
  • Infographics
  • Audience polls and surveys
  • Chat Q&A

Conference topics – What will be the overarching theme of the conference? What are the current trending topics the medical community is abuzz about? Focusing on the wrong subjects could negatively impact conference attendance and attendee engagement.

Invest in high-quality video and audio – Few things will derail a virtual conference as quickly as video, audio, and connectivity issues. If attendees can’t hear or see the speaker, they’ll just exit out. And if that happens, they may not tune back in. Test out options early on, and coordinate with presenters who may have issues due to their location. By performing an A/V check in advance—which includes reviewing audio and visual quality, Q&A features, screen sharing, etc.—you can minimize easily avoidable technical issues.

Tips for creating valuable conference content

The goal of your event should be to create a rewarding experience for both participants and attendees. And since you don’t have the advantage of in-person interaction, you must go above and beyond to keep everyone engaged, especially if it’s for a multi-day online event.

Keep things fresh – When it comes to content, don’t repurpose old materials. Instead, create new content expressly designed to captivate those in virtual attendance. Remember, the goal is to foster dialogue, not simply host passive viewers.

Prioritize audience interest with dynamic content – Audience engagement needs to be a central focus for all content. If you wish to keep them tuned in the live session, it must be interactive and personalized. Otherwise, their attention will inevitably be diverted by the various comforts and distractions of the home. Digital one-on-ones, polls, and group activities can keep attendees engaged and can be a welcome way to break up lecture blocks.

Create something to take home – Customer experience expert Jon Picoult advises that you also leave them with takeaway materials: “To help enhance the perceived value of the event for remote attendees, give them something tangible to take away from each speaker’s program, such as a coupon for a digital copy of the speaker’s book, or even just a written summary of key points and tips to remember to actualize the speaker’s advice.”

Use all of the elements of a traditional conference

Keynotes are often the major draw for a conference while also setting the overall tone and themes. But they don’t provide enough value in and of themselves. A virtual conference that’s just a lineup of speakers would be better characterized as a webinar.

So, what else should a successful virtual conference include:

Break out sessions – Break out sessions—fireside chats, workshops, roundtables, product demos, panel discussions, etc.—are smaller, more personal groups that allow conference attendees to focus on a particular topic of interest, or to take an even deeper dive into a subject that the keynote touched upon. Because they’re smaller and more intimate, breakouts encourage dialogue and participation.

Networking – Although it won’t work in quite the same way as a physical event, there are strategic and creative ways you can foster networking in an online setting, including virtual:

  • Brain dates
  • Hangout areas
  • Event games
  • Event booths
  • Group chat channels

Entertainment – In addition to keynotes, entertainment can also draw attendees in. Whether it’s a comedian, magician, musician, celebrity, or thought leader from outside of the life sciences industry, including other engaging elements, can help prevent the event from becoming one-note.

VIP Access – Many conferences will offer tiered access of some sort. Allowing for VIP access not only adds to revenue but could help draw in notable thought leaders, influencers, and c-suite execs. What the VIP experience entails depends on your conference, but it could include elements like:

  • Exclusive Q&A or breakout events with keynote speakers
  • Virtual VIP networking lounges
  • Special merch and swag
  • Offsite experiences with brand sponsors

Build excitement before the event

Even if a person has signed up to attend your virtual conference, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually show up. That’s particularly true if they sign up months in advance and then forget about it or lose enthusiasm because you didn’t do your part to promote it.

  • Naturally, social media is the optimal tool for event marketing, driving hype and engagement leading up to the conference. You can generate excitement with actions like:
  • Adding a countdown timer to the event’s website and social media platforms
  • Regularly posting and interacting with the community
  • Having keynote speakers guest blog
  • Including videos and testimonials from previous conferences
  • Partnering with key thought leaders and influencers to promote the event through live Q&A

Virtual engagement for the life science industry

The pandemic demonstrated to the world that just because in-person events are off the menu doesn’t mean that the show can’t go on. A carefully planned virtual conference can be incredibly successful and even have much higher levels of engagement and participation because of the novel format.

Fortunately, a virtual engagement platform like Within3 makes it possible to plan, host, and run a virtual event—all from one intuitive space. In doing so, you can also benefit from a powerful insights management platform that can gather troves of data from attendees, analyze that information, and then provide actionable insights to augment your future efforts.


Harvard Business Review. Reimagining Medical Conferences for a Virtual Setting.
PM Group. 10 Top Tips to Optimize Your Virtual Conference.
Forbes. 7 Ways To Make Your Online Virtual Conference Successful.

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