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Make Virtual Matter

By Jef Williams

By Jef WilliamsWe now live in a world of virtual events. Many of us who are used to experiencing life in person – whether it be concerts, conferences or even family activities – have had to adapt to experiencing life through electronic formats. This has affected the way we learn, the way we socialize and the way we work. The impact this has had on our industry is felt significantly in the way we are managing educational events and conferences. Beginning with the HIMSS conference this past March through RSNA which is scheduled to begin in late November, every major conference in the imaging space has been virtualized in 2020. This has been felt by all of the various participant stakeholders I have interacted with, including educators, attendees and vendors.

If you have participated in any virtual conferences in the recent past you have likely experienced a software platform designed to replicate the conference experience in a 2-D format. Graphic designers have developed a “game-like” experience where your mouse and keyboard replace your feet and hands. While this may provide some level of engagement, most people I’ve spoken with feel there is a significant decrease in value associated with participating through the virtual environment. There are things we can do to improve our experience, and ultimately the outcome, by reimagining how we consume the conference events virtually.

Education

As with most conferences, RSNA is driven largely by its educational component. Radiologists, other clinicians and even operational leadership find tremendous value not only in completing additional CEs, but in engaging topics and research in ways that expound their understanding of the future of radiology. Of all the components of an annual conference, education may be the best served by a virtual experience. While the challenges associated of presenting material virtually can increase its difficulty in delivery, attendees can leverage the virtual platforms to expand the educational experience. On-site conferences force attendees to choose between competing topics yet most virtual conferences provide for on-demand sessions that eliminate the need to be in a specific place at a specific time. This allows attendees to consume education at a pace and at times that are most convenient based on schedules or agendas. Additionally, there is less concern associated with entering late or leaving early based on how well the session meets expectations.

Technology

Virtual platforms are the cause of real frustration for many vendors I have spoken with. Conferences are a primary channel for exposing existing and potential customers to new technologies. The annual RSNA show goes beyond simply demonstrating software solutions and technologies. It is the largest imaging modality conference in the U.S. annually. While there may be some opportunities to demonstrate software enhancements and user experiences via virtual platforms it is very difficult when it comes to advances in modalities and room design.

There are, however, some ways attendees can engage vendors in the process of aligning meetings with strategic goals and objectives. While the opportunity to roam the aisles within the exhibit hall are significantly reduced experientially with a virtual conference, attendees can take control of the time and energy spent by communicating with existing and potential vendors. Starting a dialogue and planning for specific meetings by generating agenda topics can maximize the vendor session. This exercise brings tremendous value organizationally as it requires one to review and prioritize organizational goals. It also creates a true focus to the time spent with technology and modalities. Finally, it drives the requirement that each vendor has the right resources participating to answer technical, functional or organizational questions.

Networking

The social value of attending conferences is what I hear from people the most. There are the formal networking events that provide for introductions and celebrating the shared interests of attendees and event promoters. But the real value of networking at conferences is rekindling old friendships, and spending time with people who we do not see often otherwise. As with most industries, the imaging space within health care is a constant concern for most of us who work within it. As a result, we forge friendships and long-term relationships with people as we navigate through our careers. Conferences provide the opportunity to check on people and enjoy talking over a meal. While there are no virtual platforms that can come close to replacing the on-site experience of running into people or scheduling a coffee, there are things we can do as we approach a virtual conference to reconnect in meaningful ways.

Many choose to attend a virtual conference while multitasking at their daily job. This results in missed opportunities and reduced value overall. Consider taking time away (PTO), much like we would if we were flying to Chicago as a good approach to maximizing value. Not only does this allow for focusing the blocked time on education and exploring technology, it can become the impetus for reaching out and scheduling one-on-one Zoom sessions with people with whom we would like to reconnect. In this year of virtualization, most of us struggle to maintain our long-distance friendships. Consider using the next virtual conference as the opportunity to reach out and schedule phone calls or Zoom sessions to check in virtually over a real cup of coffee – or virtually over a real happy hour.

We all hope that 2021 brings us back to in person events and face-to-face conversations. In the meantime, let us pursue the best of what we can virtually.

Jef Williams, MBA, PMP, CIIP, is a managing partner at Paragon Consulting Partners.

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