Scientific conferences are an essential tool for any Medical Science Liaison. They offer a convenient and efficient way to engage with KOLs and provide an influx of new data for insight generation. But the nature of these events has changed drastically in the last year. As we look with hope to the post-pandemic future, what can we expect? What will conferences look like for MSLs throughout 2021, 2022, and beyond? And how should MSLs prepare to make the most of the changing reality?
Allow us to make a provocative prediction: The future of conferences is definitively virtual.
While hybrid and in-person events have begun to re-appear on our calendars (including the 9th Annual MSLS Conference!), the pandemic has shown us both the benefits and feasibility of virtual events. And in the long run, there’s just no going back. In fact, 64% of the Top 100 Oncology conferences in 2021 are still planning to be held completely online.
The benefits of virtual conferences are easy to see:
- Higher attendance from a broader audience without travel or geographic limitations
- The ability for attendees to participate in more sessions through virtual platforms
- Expanded access to other attendees before, during, and after the event
- Lower cost for organizers and attendees
In the end, these benefits all contribute to a potential shift in the way the academic, pharmaceutical, and scientific communities think about conferences. Why wait for one annual conference to disseminate meaningful data? Could a distributed model of more frequent online meetings actually enhance the experience and the resulting impact on patients and providers?
There’s only one way to find out. As experts in remote work and virtual gatherings, we present our tips for successful virtual conference attendance, before, during, and after the event:
1. Plan Ahead:
Virtual attendance means access to much more content—and potentially more KOLs. Review the abstracts as soon as they’re released and set a reasonable schedule for what you can accomplish and who you can connect with during the event. Consider a conference planning tool to help analyze the data and sessions you don’t want to miss.
2. Do Your Research:
An essential MSL skill, even the most dedicated MSL can’t keep up with everything their KOLs are up to in the chaos before a big event. Think outside of the box and look for KOL activity in other digital events (like podcasts and webinars) and in social media. As the start date of the event becomes more difficult to put your finger on, your engagement opportunities now start long before the opening plenary.
3. Listen in:
KOLs are also looking for ways to find the human connection that comes more naturally at face-to-face events. The new audio-chat app Clubhouse has emerged as a natural gathering place for doctors to discuss new data alongside virtual events. On each day of a major conference, KOLs may organize wrap-up sessions to summarize and discuss key learnings of the day and the clinical practice implications of research findings. Such casual Clubhouse sessions fill in, to a certain extent, the gap of ‘personal’ interactions that virtual events are missing.
4. Stay Social:
MSLs will have no trouble following the conference hashtag, but it’s important to go beyond listening and engage in the conversation. For large events, that can mean a lot of scrolling to keep up. A social listening tool can help filter out the noise and gauge the sentiment of a KOL or Digital Opinion Leader’s activity online, saving you time during the conference and helping generate meaningful insights after.
5. Put New Data to Work:
There’s a short window after the final session to process all the data presented at a conference and its impact on your pipeline. Digital tools can help you make sense of what’s new in the time it would take you to fly home from an event. The faster you can get your hands on the details, the sooner you can implement any strategic change.
For medical affairs teams, disseminating accurate information and meeting KOLs where they are is profoundly important. Scientific conferences offer a great opportunity to learn, gather insights, network with others, and engage opinion leaders. If the future remains virtual, it’s even more important for MSLs to demonstrate their value through virtual engagements before, during, and after the event.
As founder and CEO of LARVOL, Bruno leads a global and completely remote team providing intelligence reports and data solutions to the world’s leading pharmaceutical and life science teams. Prior to LARVOL, he founded several technology and healthcare ventures. He has worked previously with industry leaders such as IBM Healthcare Consulting and Lehman Brothers and holds an MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Abby joined the LARVOL team in January of 2021 and serves as Vice President, Marketing. Before that, she spent ten years in online curriculum development and support in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. A graduate of Belmont University, Abby believes marketing is just another outlet for telling a great story and connecting people with solutions to make their lives—and jobs — a little easier and more enjoyable. A newcomer to the world of MSLs, she’s enjoying getting to know this passionate community and looking for ways to support them better!