Thursday, October 8, 2020

Guest Post: Virtual Conferences - New Possibilities in the New Normal

- Suzanne Minor, MD; Andrea Berry, MPA; Weichao Chen, PhD

Many conferences have transitioned to a virtual format, including FMX and regional conferences. While many physicians have experience with online CME sessions, attending an entire conference through virtual technology will likely be a new experience for many of us. Even though virtual conferencing is different than our usual conference experience, attending a virtual conference can still be an effective way to learn best practices of clinical care and to engage with colleagues and our professional organizations. In fact, virtual conferencing presents unique opportunities for participation and engagement. This blog post outlines strategies to make the most of virtual conference experiences and seize unique opportunities offered in a virtual format.

Strategies to Maximize Learning

Before the conference begins, take the time to outline your overall goals and plans. According to a recent review, taking time to plan activities and outline a schedule sets you up for success.

Review the conference schedule carefully to identify high-yield sessions to attend live, taking into consideration time zone differences. Virtual conferences offer different types of virtual sessions, ranging from plenary, paper and poster presentations, workshops, small groups, demonstrations, and social events. Some sessions may require live participation at a set time, while others offer more flexibility. Prioritize the sessions that you plan to attend live and watch recordings of other didactic-based sessions on demand. Explore novel formats of participation afforded by virtual conferencing, such as preconference virtual rooms.

Familiarize yourself with the technologies to be used. Different conferences might use a variety of technologies for synchronous sessions, backchannel communication, and social networking. Install the applications (apps) and necessary plug-ins beforehand. If you plan to join the conference from work, check if technology usage might be blocked by your institutional Internet firewall.

Actively combat Zoom fatigue, or the feeling of being overloaded by video conferencing. Recommended strategies include scheduling regular break times between live sessions and avoiding multitasking and reducing on-screen distraction during live sessions, including the distraction from watching your own video. Based on your personal schedule, block time free of patient care and other job and life duties for live or priority sessions. Locate a space with less distraction for you to engage in productive online learning and dialogue during virtual conferencing.

Despite the difference in virtual conference experiences, many strategies useful in traditional conferences remain helpful:

During the conference, network actively, remain open minded to unfamiliar topics, share major take-away and useful resources via social media, and support your colleagues by attending their sessions. After the conference, obtain CME credits, add your presentation into your resume, fill out evaluation forms to provide feedback to conference organizers, reflect on the new ideas gleaned and plan for application in your practice, reach out to newly met colleagues for collaboration opportunities, and thank your institution, office staff or covering colleagues for supporting your attendance.

Unique Opportunities Offered by Virtual Conferences

Virtual conferences provide unique opportunities beyond what is possible in a traditional face-to-face format. Many conferences integrate a twitter connection within the app to allow participants to connect with like-minded physicians by posting thoughts, pearls, and questions about presentation content. This can be especially meaningful for physicians from minority groups who have found these tools invaluable in seeking support and meaningful interactions to combat isolation.

Beyond the unique tools, virtual conferences afford more physicians the opportunity to access learning that may have been previously beyond their reach. Cost and number of days out of the practice are reduced as there is no need to pay for transportation or hotels and no additional time needed to travel to distant locations. Additionally, the influx of new participants brings new opportunities to expand your network and access diverse perspectives throughout the program.