Picking My Brain on Live Virtual Education

Earlier this week, Derek and I were interviewed for a MeetingsNet article focused on (what else?) how the world of CME has changed in these last few months as the shift to virtual live education has gained steam. Apparently, since we’ve been doing this CMEpalooza thing way before virtual live education became cool, we’re supposed to have some sort of useful insight to share. Sadly, we spent most of the conversation debating which was the coolest of the Keebler Elves (did you know they all have names? Yes, yes, they do. Buckets is my guy).

That’ll teach anyone in the future to expect anything of significance to come out of our mouths.

But I guess since you’re here and everything, I might as well make myself useful and offer some personal observations based on what I’ve witnessed over the course of the last few months related to live virtual education:

  1. If you build it, they will come
    I suspect there was some initial consternation over whether there was going to be an audience for virtual live education. But with so many people in so many industries (and yes, even healthcare) working from home or working unusual hours, the attendance for many live broadcasts has been somewhat of a shocker. The viewership for CMEpalooza Spring far surpassed any previous year’s event, and I know that a few of the larger specialty societies had their servers crash due to extraordinary levels of traffic.
  2. The days of bad connections and shoddy audio/video are over (almost)
    In the early days of CMEpalooza, there would inevitably be a session where we couldn’t get someone’s video to work or the audio would trail way behind the video images. That’s been pretty rare in the last year, and it’s not only because Derek and I are really, really good at what we do (note from Derek: we’re not.) Online A/V technology has gotten much better and even the default camera on your laptop or phone will typically provide a pretty crisp image. It’s the rare live online session I’ve watched over the course of the last few weeks where I said, “Ew, that looks/sounds pretty terrible.” And with 5G right around the corner, things will only get better.
  3. The bells and whistles surrounding online platforms have gotten fancier (and probably more expensive) but they still can’t cover up bad ideas and bad content.
    There are still too many people who are falling prey to unproven gimmicks that turn out to be either very confusing for attendees or simply don’t work. I attended one online event where they took a room of 100 people and divided us up into breakout groups of 8 people. We were told, “Here are the 5 things we want you to talk about in the next 15 minutes. And… breakout!” In my breakout room, we ended up staring at each other for 2 minutes in total silence, one person disconnected due to the awkwardness, and then we wasted the next 10 minutes mostly talking about nonsense. One of those ideas that may have sounded promising, but just didn’t work. At all.
  4. There is a lack of creativity on session design
    Pretty much every session I have attended has been the same – one or more presenters, a handful of slides (usually), maybe a polling question or two, and then some Q&A from the audience. There hasn’t been a single time I’m walked away from a session and said, “Hey, that was pretty cool.” Maybe it’s because a lot of us are still getting used to the functionality of online platforms, but think bigger people!
  5. Don’t make me look at other people
    Derek sent me a screenshot last week from a session he attended where one of the people watching spent the better part of the hour eating his lunch. Derek said it was a “big salad.” Presumably, not the famous “big salad” from Seinfeld, but it looked pretty hearty. One of my least favorite things about some of the current online platforms is having to watch people who aren’t among the presenters. It’s quite distracting. And I certainly don’t want people looking at me, although I know how to turn off my camera (I guess some people don’t). Figure out a way to disable this (note from Derek: Agreed. Massive Zoom calls with 400 people on camera are dumb. Thus ends my contributions to this blog post.)
  6. The financial puzzle remains the big conundrum
    Then there is the big question, “Do live virtual events have staying power?” We’re not talking about CMEpalooza – we’re not going anywhere. It’s more about that 5,000 person multi-day conference or that 300-person satellite symposium or even that 25-person grand rounds. Remember that many of these surround hugely profitable events that drive the budget for lots of organizations. A 1-year blip is painful but likely not devastating. But can some organizations survive if this is a long-term shift? I honestly doubt it. Maybe the hybrid solution will become more popular – please God, don’t make that mean a simulcast of a 3-hour symposium with nothing more than a video feed – though I guess we’ll have to see what the market will bear.



2 thoughts on “Picking My Brain on Live Virtual Education

  1. Excellent points. Regarding #4 – what suggestions do you have on creativity. Regarding #5 – I agree with turn off your camera and mute, please mute! This was the first year I participated in CMEpalooza. It was fantastic. Thank you!

    1. So if you look back at some of the CMEpalooza archives, there are a lot of creatively designed sessions in there. Things like scripted role-play sessions (ie, Jake Powers), case-based sessions, pecha kucha, quiz shows, those sorts of things. These may not all be viable depending upon the tone of your event, but there is a lot more than basic talking heads that you can try to include.

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