Events Go Digital – The Digital Transformation

In this blog Yuva Oz, Business Developer at Oncode Institute, shares her experiences of attending digital scientific events during pandemic restrictions.

Yuva Oz Business Developer

As the world scrambles to limit the spread of the coronavirus with travel restrictions, we all had to cancel our long awaited carefully planned itineraries, conferences and trainings probably for the good part of 2020. While the idea of “Digital Transformation” has been around for over a decade, the necessity of this transformation was hugely accelerated by the pandemic. For the first time, we faced a forced paradigm shift on how we share research, learn, and engage with our network. Not surprisingly, the initial reaction for most was to postpone or cancel those events, over the concern that working together by phone or video conference wouldn’t be as useful or productive as face to face meetings. But innovation has to happen now more than ever, so we need to learn to adapt and adopt fast to this new reality. Since many scientific and business events moved online, I would like to share my experiences with you.

Digitalized Events: BIO Europe Spring
BIO Europe Springis one of the most anticipated partnering events for BioPharma in Europe. Attended globally across the Life Science Sector, this three-day conference sets the stage for great networking opportunities with partnering meetings, receptions and panel presentations. Organized by EBD group, the 2020 meeting in Paris was one of the first events to fully transform to digital. I was skeptical on how digitalized events could replace in-person networking, but I decided to find out and enjoy the experience.

The meeting platform stayed exactly the same: you could sign in with your profile and request meetings. The platform would schedule a meeting for you considering agenda availabilities (now in global time zones!). The technology worked completely smooth and the meetings were very focused, more effective and less exhausting.

One thing I missed was the classic way of exchanging business cards. Although admittedly seen as a paper waste, they can be handy to have the contact details for following up your initial conversation. In the digital version, if you forgot to share your email address, there were no opportunities to follow up with someone. Company presentations and panel discussions took place virtually and were available for a couple of days to watch after the event. Overall, sitting in video calls to discuss business opportunities was not as much fun as physical networking, but more efficient and less tiring than long travels.

Exploring Cancer Research with AACR
After that first experience, the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) took place virtually for the first time too. AACR hosted a record-breaking number of 60.000 registrants, one of the largest medical meetings of its kind online. Instead of the typical five-day conference, it took place over two days and was scheduled and divided into two parts. Mini symposia, poster presentations and Q&A’s were all streamed in two channels during the 8-hour meetings. A positive result of the digital AACR was the ability of the audience to vote on questions in real time, which resulted in a higher quality of questions according to the organizers. During the second part of the conference, AACR Virtual Meeting II, research from Oncode Investigators Ton Schumacher, Hans Clevers, Rene Bernards, Edwin Cuppen, Emile Voest and many others was discussed.

Pop-up Digital Meetings
Besides the digital versions of planned conferences, I also notice a webinar frenzy. Pop-up digital events are taking advantage of the new situation. Many life science companies are organizing free pop-up digital meetings, webinars and panel discussions. These events can be powerful, as they can reach people everywhere in an open-access setting. I had the opportunity to join the Biotechgate Partnering event - a completely new digital event organized by BiotechGate. It was a simple platform to set-up ‘time restricted’ meetings via ZOOM with companies, and surprisingly I ended up making several relevant contacts. Several other events to watch in June: Endpoints panel discussions, JLABS webinars French Oncology Consortia MatWin Oncology showcase.

Vision for the future: Myths vs Reality
Conferences play a vital role within the Scientific and BioPharma communities to access research and innovation, build collaborations and network. A year without meetings can have impact on the advancement of science and therefore we need to adopt the creative ways to make it work.

It’s impossible to replicate the experience of a face-to-face contact in an online setting. However, the MYTH is that Digital is about technology. REALITY: It’s still about the people and their connection. With the right preparation, tools and the willingness to experiment, it’s possible to attend and gain as much (and sometimes more) in virtual meetings. They are greener, cheaper to attend and will fit a busy schedule more easily.

In the future, I think we can expect more hybrid events, with a meeting that is partly face-to-face and partly digital, which enables larger audiences to meet online.

As for Oncode Institute, we are focusing on hybrid and fully digital events too. Our Oncode Annual Meeting on 7-8thSeptember will both be held live with a limited audience and will be available in a digital setting too. We are looking forward to seeing you all there, hosting, engaging, learning, just as if we were all there!

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Elize is part of Oncode’s communication team. She has over 10 years of experience in the com-munication industry, both for commercial and non-profit organisations. After obtaining her bache-lor and master degree in communication at Utrecht University, Elize worked as a communication professional at a research institute, PR agency, law firm and internet company. She has a strong focus on external communications and Public Relations. At Oncode - together with her colleagues - Elize produces the monthly newsletters for Oncode Investigators & Researchers and the Oncode digital magazine. She publishes content for the Oncode website and is responsible for all social media channels. She enjoys discussing science with researchers and support them in their outreach.