ECG Principal Michael Vivion, PhD discusses factors to consider when planning whether to hold a virtual or face-to-face meeting.

Exciting developments in collaborative technology have made virtual meetings more attractive. They've also provided an immediate win for companies looking to reduce travel and meeting costs. Consequently, the incidence of various kinds of virtual meetings has increased dramatically over the past few years.

On the other hand, communication success correlates highly with how well a meeting is tuned to an audience. Sometimes it's essential to have a meeting that focuses on developing and leveraging personal interaction. Accordingly, choosing the best format, media, and method for important meetings is essential to their success. One of the most important decisions is whether to have some version of an online, virtual meeting or to conduct the meeting face-to-face.

BOTH FORMATS OFFER BENEFITS

Virtual meetings are excellent at delivering content and providing immediate opportunities for checking comprehension online. They do reduce travel time and costs. They can also provide dynamic and energetic programs that maximize use of different kinds of media. Done well, they are exciting and create a sense of belonging to a cutting-edge organization.

Alternatively, face-to-face meetings increase personal engagement, boost retention, establish relationships, and strengthen cohesion. In highly competitive areas where personal relationships are important company assets, putting people together in the same physical space can be a definite advantage.

Pharmaceutical companies have long realized the opportunities that each of these approaches offers. They spend considerable time and energy providing professionals involved in their clinical trials with the appropriate knowledge and insight to conduct clinical trials in the most efficient and effective way possible. They have discovered that investigators experienced in the trial process and therapeutic area benefit more from virtual meetings, but that newer investigators benefit more from face-to-face sharing of experience and ideas.

Many companies also understand that it's not an either/or situation. Meetings can be designed as hybrids of face-to-face and virtual. If planned thoughtfully and well, such hybrids may include the best of both formats.

KNOW YOUR PURPOSE AND AUDIENCE

Savvy companies realize that choosing the best meeting format depends on what the company most needs to get out of the meeting as well as on identifying the particular needs of the most important target audiences. The most successful meetings, no matter what the format, are designed to accomplish a clear purpose and engage a well-defined audience.

Although in many cases a meeting's purpose may seem to be entirely informational, its ultimate purpose is persuasive. Any sales meeting, for example, or a pharmaceutical company's Investigator Meeting, will include information, facts, descriptions of products and processes. But the goal is to persuade attendees not just to understand information but to take certain actions with it. Do you need the relationship-building element of a face-to-face meeting to persuade attendees to take those actions or can you accomplish that goal through a well-designed virtual program? Perhaps a hybrid?

And the attendees? Analyze their level of experience, roles in the organization, motivation, any possible impediments to their understanding and subsequent actions. Based on that analysis, determine which kind of meeting will meet them where they are and move them to where you want them to be. While you must always adjust meeting presentations and activities to take best advantage of attendees' strengths and to shore up their weaknesses, one type of meeting may better accommodate those adjustments than the others.

MAKE THE BEST CHOICE

Whichever approach a company uses, it should strive to match the content with its audience and create energy that engages the participants. The wisdom is knowing which approach has the largest chance for success.