Venue-based medical speaker events, such as dinner meetings, are experiencing a sharp decline after decades of steady growth. This is driven by the same market forces, such as cost, physician time, regulatory compliance and public perception, which have re-shaped the marketplace for the pharma industry. Despite a decline in activity, the value of speaker programs is as strong as ever: HCPs prefer live, peer-based learning, and pharma is in a unique position to sponsor speaker programs on a national basis.

Across the pharma industry, speaker program activity has been slashed in a response to budget-tightening. Rather than cutting back, brand teams should consider a cost-effective alternative: the virtual speaker program.

There are many ways to format virtual programs, and the most effective may be desktop-to-desktop web conferences that are brief (20-30 minutes) and scheduled frequently. This virtual speaker format addresses several market-defining forces: costs are lower (up to 80% savings), and convenience for physicians is far greater. Virtual programs are compliance-friendly and more acceptable to the public than a pharma-funded dinner.

Of course, there’s no point in re-designing the speaker program if quality is sacrificed. Virtual speaker programs must deliver a compelling experience to healthcare audiences, and offset the loss of face-to-face interaction. This can’t be achieved by simply streaming audio and pushing slides; effective virtual programs must incorporate interactive features, as well as superior multimedia and live video of the speaker. Done right, virtual events can deliver an immersive experience.

To date, virtual speaker formats have not gained much traction, as pharma has piloted virtual formats, too often with under-whelming results. But have heart! Underlying virtual technology has made significant strides in reliability and performance, and the learning curve on “what works” has led to successful service models. Advances in broadband service and installed hardware now make it possible to deliver great-looking virtual events to almost all medical offices and clinics.

Most importantly, virtual speaker programs give pharma reps something of scientific value to offer medical audiences. Clinicians at any location can interact with top-tier medical experts in live, small-group sessions, choosing from dozens of time slots every week. Virtual events are a clear win-win, and the future of the medical speaker program.

Bill Cooney is president and CEO, MedPoint Communications