October 28th, 2020

The Disadvantages of Virtual Speaker Programs and How to Solve Them

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John Cusmina

President, TL Health

In our last article, we identified some of the benefits to virtual speaker programs, for example:

  • You can attain speakers who you may not have previously been able to reach due to schedule and travel restrictions.
  • You have the ability to have speakers from multiple locations present at one program, providing more diversity to your presentations.
  • Eliminating travel may increase attendance as the program is now more accessible to attendees and can reach a larger, geographically dispersed audience.

Although there are many advantages to virtual speaker programs, that is not to say they don’t have some drawbacks. Here we will discuss the disadvantages of virtual programs and possible solutions.

Disadvantages of Virtual Speaker Programs

Some of the disadvantages of running virtual speaker programs include:

  1. The speaker cannot see the audience so it’s harder for them to tell if the audience is engaged or understands the material.
  2. The audience can get distracted and may try to do multiple things while listening to the presenter, especially if the speaker or topic is not engaging.

Possible Solutions 

In-Program Polling

Luckily, there are some things we can do to offset some of these disadvantages. One of these tools is in-program polling.  In-program polling has been used for years to get the audience to engage with the speaker. 

I first experienced in-program polling many years ago while attending a meeting at ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology). During the meeting, the speaker would ask the audience a question on a topic, for instance, how they would treat a specific patient profile given certain criteria like the stage of the disease, age of the patient, and co-morbid conditions.  Each audience member would then use a handheld device that they could use to “vote” and then the answers would be shown on the screen on stage. 

It was new at the time and the audience and speakers seemed to enjoy this feature. From the speaker’s perspective, they could get an idea of what the audience was thinking and then tailor their discussion to their feedback. In addition, the audience liked to see how their treatment practices either aligned or didn’t align with the group.

Since that time, polling software does not require a hand-held device. Audience members can vote using their smartphone. The audience does not need to download any software and output can be displayed right in the PowerPoint deck, so the speaker doesn’t have to flip back and forth from several open tabs on their computer. This makes in-program polling viable in any setting live or virtual.

In-program polling provides several advantages in the virtual setting:

  1. The audience can engage with the speaker.
  2. The speaker can get an idea of what the audience is thinking and tailor their discussion accordingly.
  3. It reinforces key messages.

Audience Question + Answer (Q+A)

Another nice feature to help keep the audience focused on the presentation is the Q+A tool.  This allows the audience to ask questions and/or make comments during and after the meeting using their smartphone.  Audience members can see the questions being asked in real-time and if they see a question or comment they agree with they can promote that question or comment by simply voting for it.  The software will count each vote so the presenter can prioritize which questions are most relevant and address those first. This is beneficial to ensuring the presentation is best tailored to the audience’s needs, especially if time is a factor.

In addition, I don’t know about you, but there have been times during a meeting when I wanted to ask a question or comment, but wasn’t sure if my question would be perceived as stupid or might offend the presenter so I didn’t ask the question.  With this feature, no one will know who is asking or commenting, which allows for more honest feedback. 

Final Thoughts

In-Program Polling and Audience Q+A are two tools that can be used to help increase audience engagement and keep the audience focused during virtual speaker programs. 

In-program polling allows both the speaker and the audience to see how their views compare with the rest of their peers and helps them to engage with the speaker and the information being presented.  This information allows the speaker to tailor their presentation accordingly and can be used for further discussion and clarification.

The Q+A feature helps to keep the audience engaged with the presentation as they can see questions that other audience members have and keep them focused on the presentation.  The audience Q+A also allows the audience to ask questions and make comments in a non-threatening way, which helps to capture honest feedback. 

Both of these tools provide a better overall experience with the audience and provides feedback to the speaker that they can use to create better virtual meetings. 

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John Cusmina

John has over 34 years of pharmaceutical industry experience working in Product Management, Market Research, Sales and Sales Operations for companies such as GSK, AstraZeneca, Shire, Medeva Pharmaceuticals, and IMS Health. His specialties include: Market Strategy Planning & Development, Launch and Operational Planning, Market Research, Multi-Channel Promotions and Business Development.

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