Virtual Meetings: Where Do We Begin?
Like most organizations, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) boasts a robust and rich history of face-to-face meetings. In fact, Texas veterinarians have met annually since 1903—the year TVMA was founded. Since then, world events (World War I, World War II, Spanish influenza epidemic, etc.) have significantly impacted people’s lives. However, organized veterinary meetings—large and small—carried on despite these disruptions.
Since mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected our day-to-day business and personal routines like nothing we’ve ever experienced in our lifetimes. One of the major changes is people are practicing social distancing. This new social norm and precautionary measure has forced organizations to rethink how to hold meetings, with safety being of foremost importance. How can veterinary medical associations (VMAs) offer online meetings that are relevant, engaging, valuable and meaningful to attendees?
Many associations are exploring online continuing education (CE) options for the first time in their histories.
The good news is there are wonderful advantages to virtual meetings. Some of those advantages are:
- Learning is accessible anywhere, anytime, without losing any interactivity.
- Blending face-to-face presentations with one or two virtual sessions offers the best of both worlds. This type of hybrid meeting will provide an option for those who cannot attend in person. They can access those particular online sessions either as a livestream or as a recorded on-demand option.
- Providers offer an engaging learning experience while reducing costs by up to 90 percent (no venue expenses, no food/beverage expense, no speaker travel and hotel expenses, etc.).
- Presenters can engage with attendees with live question-and-answer sessions, so there is no delay.
- Unique networking opportunities exist online, such as specialized topic-based breakout rooms, lounges for social networking and informal gatherings through a virtual event platform. This means you do not have to sacrifice the networking experience with virtual meetings.
Is your local VMA considering using a video conferencing app for future meetings? Below you will find some of the more popular apps available that are free of charge. Please note there are usually stipulations on free meeting apps (time limits on the meeting, only free during trial period, limited capacity of participants, etc.). Make sure you read the fine print before making a selection.
Facebook Live: www.facebook.com
Google Duo: https://duo.google.com/about/
Google Hangout: https://hangouts.google.com/
Google Meet: https://gsuite.google.com/signup/basic/welcome
Instagram Live: www.instagram.com
*The list provided above is not an endorsement of these companies by TVMA. This list is for informational purposes only.
When adding or switching to virtual events, it is important to consider that information provided at in-person events may need to be presented differently online. If you’ve ever participated in a webinar, think about that experience and put yourself in the attendee’s shoes.
Here are a few pieces of advice from organizers with virtual meeting experience:
- Determine your meeting needs and which app features are important to provide a quality learning experience.
- Estimate the number of participants and determine the best day and time to host a webinar while taking your attendees’ needs into consideration.
- Consider your attendees’ technology tolerance. The attendee experience will depend on the quality of their computer equipment and internet bandwidth. Be transparent and give them the minimum equipment and internet requirements in advance.
- When planning the program, find speakers who have experience with virtual meetings. They will understand the importance of engaging the audience, room lighting, audio, background, etc. This is helpful when the host is new to the virtual meeting world.
- Schedule a speaker rehearsal prior to the online event.
- Moderators are important to maintain control of the session and encourage engagement.
- Have a backup plan in case your speaker has technical difficulties (e.g., a hotspot can be sent to the speaker in advance).
- Sponsorship opportunities are alive and well in the virtual meeting world. Visit with your regular sponsors to see how you can give them value for their sponsor dollar and meaningful benefits.
Let’s face it—for a lot of us who plan meetings, the last month and a half created a huge learning curve, and there is still much to be learned. In the face of uncertainty, we can assure you that tending to the needs of Texas veterinary professionals and paraprofessionals is of the utmost priority to TVMA. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or need additional information on virtual meetings.