Virtual Events for Science and Engineering

Andy Henton is the Founder of InsideScientific, an online environment built for life science researchers – Andy specialises in life sciences, webinars, virtual events and science communication.

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Scientific Virtual Events

How is the Life Science/Clinical Diagnostics market reacting to the Crisis?

The established players who were already heavily invested in digital and content marketing, they're doubling down. They are doing more:

  • Webinars
  • Content Writing
  • Blogging
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Articles

We’re even seeing firms getting creative on social media, they're everywhere!

However, for those that are in a more restrictive financial position, they've naturally locked down spending and taking time to regroup. They are now coming forward with new strategies. Calling upon the expertise of their existing staff, product managers, application experts and sales teams. All of these folks are shifting their roles to include tasks that you know, were traditionally managed by the marketing team.

What are businesses struggling with right now during the current pandemic?

Now, there's a number of things that we're seeing:

  • Expertise (or lack thereof) to plan and implement their digital marketing objectives,
  • Bandwidth is another one - not having enough time to get to everything you want to do
  • Prioritisation of Resources – Similar to above, it’s a bit of a theme in marketing, there's so many great things that companies want to do within the marketing space. You could do 10 things poorly, or you could do 3 things really well.

You could do 10 things poorly, or you could do 3 things really well.

Adoption of technology is also a huge challenge with firms transitioned to work from home. And so that means teams and individuals have been impacted and are now adjusting to new:

Workflows

Internal Communication with colleagues has changed. There’s a range of tools out there to help teams streamline their communication:

  • Microsoft Teams and Slack are replacing internal email
  • Monday.com, Asana, and Trello are great for managing projects

Managers shifting to new methods

  • Leading and managing projects
  • Assigning tasks
  • Tracking progress

So all of this collectively means that companies as a whole and employees need to embrace new technologies. And you often hear about people talk buying the best technology, but it’s the implementation and the adoption of technology is what makes it great in a company.

How do online events fit in with the current sales funnel?

Today I'd say it's top to bottom. Although I’m also seeing online events being planned with a focus to really address late stage buying questions and usher that person into the process of the close.

Similarly, video is being used to engage buyers beyond the typical email and phone conversations pre-pandemic. Products like Vidyard or Go-Video are being used by sales reps, to establish more of a connection.

Video presents an opportunity to show your body language, show empathy and have that human connection even in a virtual situation. That’s becoming increasingly important and it will continue to be that way when things get back to the new normal.

Even on Linkedin, you can now connect with a Voicenote in the messages. It’s the little things that make your message stand out.

Video conferencing can even be used to review quotes and sign contracts. It's so much more personable to meet online in the video conference, review the contract together and digitally sign.

People, do business with people. Video keeps that human element intact.

Forward thinking companies nowadays are constantly looking for ways to leverage competitive advantage – It doesn’t matter what products you sell or which services you provide, these digital tools are designed to help you sell more, market more effectively, communicate more efficiently and ultimately reduce your cost base, increase your top line or even both!

Take electronic signature software such as Adobe or Docusign. They reduce the average deal length to close by 8.33% - you’ve immediately got another month’s revenue right there. These marginal gains are everywhere and will all add up as the workforce becomes increasingly remote.

How would you compare online events to trade shows and conferences?

I don't think online events will ever completely replace trade shows and conferences.

Online events are great for creating agendas where participants can consume 100% of the content and participate in everything the program has to offer.

The content can be delivered over a longer period of time, whereas most scientific conferences force attendees to choose where they'll be at a specific time, which symposia and posters they'll participate in etc.

Participants can consume 100% of ALL the content

The second subject, is networking. This never will be the same as connecting with your colleagues and friends or making new contacts at a trade show or conference face to face.

So if you think about online events, webinars and virtual meetings, these are purposely built for explicit data capture:

  • Who attended
  • Contact details
  • Professional interests
  • Geography
  • What they're looking for, their problems and why they're there.

The registration forms are central to planning these events, once you have the explicit characteristic data. Then you can gather more intrinsic, behavioural data:

  • Polls, surveys and questions
  • Handouts and resources consumed

These all work together to track, and ultimately build a profile of that individual.

Ask about online events
Discuss strategy on virtual conferences and online exhibitions

In an in-person event, it's virtually impossible to collect that level of data on every participant at in such a way that the data is manageable. For online, there's a host of information… often too much to go through, but that’s a distinct issue, and a good problem to have!

Exhibitor and Conference Organizer Data

Whilst exhibitors may have 200 data points, and is trying to make sense of that for their sales team.

Now think about the conference organizer, their interests might be, I want to know all the booths that that person went to. I want to better understand why they're getting value out of this exhibition floor, what answers they're trying to solve. I also want to understand what events they went to and why they chose those ones over other ones they couldn't attend during the three days or four days that the conference was hosted.

Think about that level of data and now take 10,000 attendees.

The example of the vendor and their data points is actually a small bucket. Whereas the big data capture is actually for the event organizers and the large sponsors and coordinators of it.

When you look at what can be captured over a 3 day virtual meeting online with 10,000 individuals signing on and moving through data it's an overwhelming amount of data, but it is extremely powerful once it's processed for those event planners. Firstly, for them to improve upon the programs moving forward, but also to work closer with their stakeholders giving them insights as to what they should be doing on the industry side.

How would you use a webinar series to nurture and educate your audience?

While the single webinar represents the opportunity to learn and participate in one event. In contrast, a webinar series invites a participant to learn over multiple events over a longer course of time.

So a webinar series is a program which not only allows you to bring in leads to the funnel, but also nurture them through the funnel, presenting multiple opportunities for them to learn.

When companies take the time to plan a series, it's very similar to planning a sales process: Everybody has a sales playbook, qualifying call, demo, quote etc. However when it comes to marketing, it's not as clear.

I would challenge sales and marketing leaders to make that connection - You don't go into sales and wing it. You have a game plan. So a webinars series is like a game plan for content.

Ask about Webinars

How does a webinars series differ from a bigger virtual event or conference?

This is different from a webinars series, because it really blends lots of content types: webinar, video, presentations and sessions, where people can participate and ask questions.

Add in things like virtual posters or direct on demand content and promotional videos etc. So naturally virtual meetings bring a whole different perspective on not just exhibitor sponsorship, but just sponsorship in general.

A virtual event is like having a series of webinars and lots of rich on demand content, but it also brings people together to interact and engage with each other.

Secondly, networking sessions and round tables are great ways for those participants to really connect with each other. Naturally these events are hosted over multiple days and event planners are looking at driving thousands of participants through these platforms over a relatively short amount of time. So that big differentiator on virtual meetings and webinars is about scale of content and how many people are moving through the program and the data footprint which they contribute.

How can scientists now present their work online?

Scientists can take it upon themselves to share their work. There's two options here.

  • The DIY approach which embraces powerpoint or recording it yourself.
    • It’s authentic and it shares their message.
  • Conversely, you can share your content as part of a virtual poster. We're encouraging scientists within our network to reach and get involved with short webinars and presentations.
    • High quality audio and video
    • Professional appearance leaves the audience to concentrate on the Science.

So this is how I see scientists currently presenting their work with the fact that almost all conferences are shut down.

How will that affect the acceleration with which scientific discovery and research is shared on a global basis?

Open access publication is very top of mind right now especially with the U S government forcing open access publications in some instances, so that all scientists can benefit from the knowledge, hence accelerating wider scientific discovery.

Scientists are the leaders on this subject. They've always shared their work, there's a fundamental acknowledgement that quality science is shared, whilst discoveries are vetted.

I believe that scientists themselves will be actively participating in programs to ensure that their work is accessible. In the years to come, the path towards discovery and innovation will be quicker. Hopefully this will accelerate the discovery and application of cures for diseases and vaccines for certain illnesses that's obviously extremely pertinent right now.

That’s exactly the reason why AZoM was started – Dr. Ian Birkby was frustrated that there was no way online where he could share his information. Just a broken publishing model that's ripe for disruption. It's in the public interest that we do share all academic research and science as much as possible in order to fight the current COVID pandemic.

What tips would you have for a scientist – How to present a virtual poster or a video on demand.

Practice your delivery, most people aren’t used to delivering a monologue to a computer - it feels weird without the audience cue or body language to read.

When you present in-person, you move your hands, you move your body, you walk around, you might have props and a screen behind you. When you present online, especially if a webcam is involved, you really need to be looking forward preferably at the camera to keep people engaged.

Body language, online presence and webcam awareness is of paramount importance, you have to work within the parameters of your medium.

The first time we did webinars, I hated the sound of my own voice… But then you realize everybody hears you like that every day. Once you get used to hearing your own voice, it’s perfectly natural.

Finally, I’d say be authentic.

The best webinars are those that they carry all the umms and ahhs, hesitations and the pivots and talking points – They’re authentic!

There's a place for polished presentations online, but if we just really nail what the scientists are looking for; an opportunity to virtually connect with a colleague in their space and learn about their work.

They don't expect you to be the equivalent of a news anchor, with perfect lighting and sound. They're just looking for your time, your attention and to hear you share your work. And then importantly, they want to be able to interact with you.

So always include questions, polls and surveys in your webinars. Having longer Q&A sessions and giving an opportunity just for some conversation with presenters is really encouraged. It's often what the audience likes the most about a scientific webinar is the discussion at the end.

What are simulated live events?

Simulated live is where we take a pre-recorded webinar presentation and broadcast back to the live audience on the day of a webinar.

You can still be authentic in a simulated live event. You're just being authentic a couple of weeks beforehand.

What a simulated live event introduces is the opportunity to create polished content, you can better plan and stage the delivery of certain things. Presenters can walk over videos and perfect their narration of the video. You can better fade in and out from different formats.

So you can pre-plan jumping between slides, crunching large data sets in software and concentrate on nailing the delivery of the message with the magic happening in post-production of the video-editing.

It’s like where a TV presenter will cut to roll the VT - It de-risks the whole situation because there's nothing technical that can go wrong. You've already, recorded the content.

If you were at a physical event, they do the presentation, and then they do the Q&A at the end. So this would be no different to that and you can still invite the live questions at the end.

It also helps where you have your KOLs and experts spaced around different time zones, you de-risk it by asking them to pre-record.

What are the differences between smaller online conferences and large online exhibitions?

It all depends on the objectives of the planning committee and the groups involved. Objectives typically tend to be a mix of the these to varying degrees:

  • Lead Generation
  • Brand Awareness and Reputation
  • Educating and engaging with a niche community
  • Networking with both existing colleagues and new contacts

The biggest thing that differentiates a webinar or a series of webinars with a virtual meeting or virtual event is networking. It's the ability to have individuals participate in an online environment and within their control, breakout for little sidebars to connect with people, direct message them, even have a video chat with them. That's one of the objectives of a bigger meeting, right, connect with people that you never would otherwise know.

What do you see are the major changes in the budget of a marketing manager of a medium size science or engineering firm?

There’s been a rude awakening to the importance of content marketing for most companies in the technology space.

I hope to see a more serious attention to strategic planning in marketing. There's a lot of old hat thinking still in this conservative industry, that marketing is about pretty pictures, brochures, images and logos. Sure that's part of marketing, but that isn't Marketing.

I'd also hope to see a stronger adoption of the topic of sales and marketing integration. Appreciating that sales is one side of marketing and marketing is one side of sales. Marketing teams should be collecting data and coaching and share sharing how salespeople can use this data to do their jobs better.

Equally, sales teams should be reporting back to the marketing teams to share what they're seeing in the battlefield. Collectively they should be creating strategies and teams that are extremely effective, but it requires that leaders at companies acknowledge it's where they need to invest to grow.

And that's digital and content marketing for sure.

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Posted by Andy Henton

After completing an honours degree in Medical Science at Western University (Ontario, Canada), Andy spent 8 years working in the preclinical research instrumentation market focused on commercialization of miniaturized catheter-based technologies for cardiovascular research. He has filled various roles including sales, marketing and business development. In 2013, he co-founded InsideScientific, an online environment built for life science researchers focused on producing educational webinars, workshops and digital resources that help researchers do their best science.  An expert in educational webinars, he has been involved in the planning, production and hosting of more than 100 webinars in the science industry.

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