I am sure you’ve heard the news that the College Annual Scientific Meeting will not take place in Phoenix, but will be coming to your home. I hope you will be ready for all those allergists and allied health professionals spending three days in your house. You have until November to get ready for all your guests.
Yes, the College meeting will be virtual. Until something dramatic happens like a medicine(s) that will control, or a vaccine that will prevent, COVID-19, virtual medical meetings will be the standard for large societies like the College.
Extremely important for the overall success is that the meeting’s host must have an easy-to-use platform for the attendees and speakers. College staff spent hours interviewing different entities to host the virtual meeting. The technology utilized by the virtual meeting events company we’re partnering with will enable us to include almost all of the aspects of our in-person meeting and ensure a great, accessible experience. As with an in-person meeting, there will be several sessions going on at the same time for you to choose from. Have no worries — there will be plenary sessions, literature review, abstracts, posters, and all the other learning activities that make the College Annual Meeting a must for the practicing allergist. There will even be a virtual exhibit hall and ways to network and have private chats with your colleagues, just like at an in-person meeting.
What can we do as attendees to truly make this a learning experience? Before the meeting, it is important to review the program and organize your schedule for the lectures and activities that you wish to attend. You may want to set reminders in your calendar so you don’t miss any sessions that are important to you. On the day of the meeting, try to access the platform early so you can become familiar with the technology being used to navigate the meeting. It is important to attempt to minimize outside distractions. Pretend you are at an in-person conference and not at home in your pajamas. While listening to a lecture, get comfortable and try not to multi-task. It is vital to focus on the lecture to get the most out of it. The good news is you’ll be able to revisit a lecture later or catch one you missed.
Since the start of the pandemic, I have given five or six lectures and listened to numerous others at virtual meetings. Here are my musings on being a virtual speaker. First, being a virtual speaker is a different experience from that of being in front of a live audience. I think it is actually more difficult to give the lecture virtually. You feel like you are talking to yourself. It is hard to get feedback from the audience when you don’t see them. How do you know if you are connecting? How do you know if your message is getting through? Are you keeping the audience’s attention? When giving a lecture virtually, the audience has many things that can distract them. They can surf the web, answer email, text, and do other activities. Children and pets in the house can impede the attendee from paying attention to the lecture.
I think the solution here is to be animated when lecturing virtually. Put more energy into your lecture, more inflection into your speech. Your PowerPoint slides need to be easy to read, with the key points clearly shown. Confusing tables and graphs should be avoided. I also think that lectures should be shorter than in a live meeting to keep attendees’ attention. Get to the point in the lecture; remove the “fluff.” If possible, put in questions that can be answered by the audience during the talk. Leave plenty of time for questions and answers. While some sessions will include a live Q and A, attendees will not be able find you after your talk or during the meeting to ask a question as they would at a live conference.
Get used to virtual meetings. They can be a great learning experience in the comfort of your home. I believe that, even after the pandemic has ended, virtual meetings will still be a major part of learning for the allergist.
Michael Blaiss, MD, FACAAI, Executive Medical Director