With the recent public health crisis and the consequent social distancing and restrictions on travel, scientific and investor conferences have been moved to an all online format until further notice. While some companies and investigators are deciding to hold onto data with the hopes of presenting in-person at a later point in time, this is not an option for many organizations. For most biotech companies, progress and value creation are dependent on timely reporting of results and stakeholder engagement. When planning for virtual data presentations, there are several key differences that come along with the change in format. Here, we have provided a few fundamental questions to consider with your team when planning your virtual presentation strategy.
Should you present virtually or wait for a potential in-person opportunity?
This is a difficult question that will clearly vary on a case-by-case basis and will depend on things like whether the COVID-19 situation even allows for in-person events by late 2020, and how much of a financial/valuation impact this data is likely to have on your company. The answers and weight given to each of these variables should involve input from your senior management team and from multiple perspectives. For many companies, the answer will be that disclosing/sharing the data cannot wait, so it’s time to prepare now.
How are data disclosures handled if your conference was cancelled?
These should be handled on a case-by-case basis. In general, if a conference was cancelled then presenters are released from their agreed embargoes. When postponed, conference organizers are typically amending their embargoes to reflect the new event dates. If this is the case, and in conflict with data reporting timelines that many companies must adhere to, then withdrawing your abstract might be your best option. Presenting your data at a different event may be possible, or you may consider hosting your own virtual scientific data event. While “data by press release” is not optimal, it might be your only option under these current circumstances.
Who will be paying attention and how do we maximize exposure?
How organizations are managing access to virtual event content varies considerably. Some conferences are becoming open access while others are keeping all or select “premium” content available to registered attendees only. Your presentation may not have a large upfront audience, but it could potentially receive extra views in the days following the actual presentation that make up the difference. If archived content has open access, use this enhanced accessibility to your advantage. If conference guidelines allow, promote and link to your presentation on your corporate website and social media channels. Be sure to plan your presentation remarks for this broader audience and remember that your message must remain scientifically and clinically relevant both today and up to a year from today.
Do KOL events in conjunction with a conference still make sense?
These events may not make as much sense in the world of virtual conferences. If the objective was to get a number of key names in the same room, which clearly will not be happening, then this can just as easily be done through your own channels, so long as content embargoes are respected. One benefit here is that without the regulations put on these types of events by conference organizers, the virtual KOL event may actually be easier to plan.
Is the presentation prerecorded or is there a live component?
If your presentation is live, it may go without saying, but make sure your technology is compatible in advance, put yourself in a space where you will be undisturbed, and utilize all methods of communication available to you (audio, video, audience interaction) in order to maximize your impact and audience engagement. If the presentation is not live, there may be opportunity to do multiple takes on your pre-recording and select the very best one. Take the opportunity to improve as a presenter by looking at the recorded takes with a critical eye for potential improvements.
Will there be a live/open Q&A?
Every audience typically includes a few tough questioners but be prepared for the relative number of these tough questioners to grow due to the ability of the audience to multitask and fact check in real-time. It is also good idea to find out whether the questions will be filtered through a moderator or if you will need to field them directly in an open Q&A. Functioning as a faux Q&A, some events may employ a public comments section with archived presentations. Find out whether public comments are optional and what the policy is for policing inappropriate posts.
In general, there are more similarities than differences between in-person and virtual conference presentations, and we should do our best to make that difference as small as possible. As awkward is it may be to the presenter, use video in addition to your slides when available as an option, dress well, stand when you speak and speak clearly and concisely. Expect more distinctions to emerge between the in-person and the virtual event as the forces at work find their new equilibrium, but in the meantime be aware of these components and put thought and conversation into how your company will best handle them.
About the Authors:
Managing Partner, MacDougall
Kari is a Co-founder and Managing Partner at MacDougall and has helped to grow and manage the agency since 2002. Kari continues to take an active role with MacDougall’s clients providing senior counsel regarding corporate branding and positioning, messaging and media strategy, corporate communications, issues management and crisis communications. Kari is also MacDougall’s go-to person for publication planning and scientific communications. She loves helping to launch new companies and supporting them as they advance their programs and grow their businesses. Prior to joining MacDougall, Kari provided counsel to biotech clients in the corporate communications practice at Feinstein Kean Healthcare, where she worked for more than four years, rising through the ranks from Coordinator to Director. Kari graduated from Williams College with a bachelor’s degree in art history and coursework concentrated in pre-medical studies.
Gregory Johnson, Ph.D.
Associate Account Executive, MacDougall
Greg works directly with clients on the MacDougall accounts team to help communicate their scientific endeavors and strategize around their core innovations. Prior to joining MacDougall, Greg was a laboratory researcher rising from undergraduate research assistant to Postdoctoral Associate specializing in the neurophysiology involved in neurologic and psychiatric conditions. Greg completed his bachelor’s degree in biology at Williams College and received his Ph.D. from the University of Vermont.