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Using virtual events to deepen real-world relationships

In a geographically vast country like Canada, building connections from coast to coast can often be a challenge. Add to that today’s pandemic-related travel restrictions and physical distancing practices, and the task may seem impossible.

However, our new reality has also accelerated the adoption of tools that allow for virtual events in a variety of formats. While some organizations have turned to these technologies during the pandemic, others have long recognized the advantages of virtual events in our highly connected world.

Over the past year, NATIONAL has been working alongside Pfizer Canada to help strengthen relationships in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) community. In 2019, the Imagine RA program began with a workshop that brought together individuals from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to discuss their real life experiences living with RA, and the needs and priorities of their community.

Expanding this work in 2020, NATIONAL proposed a virtual workshop with RA advocates from across the country. This recommendation was made well before COVID-19 arrived in Canada and resulted in tremendous benefits to the program. Not only did a virtual workshop enable participation from coast to coast, – expanding the Imagine RA network of advocates from Vancouver to Halifax—it also allowed these advocates to participate in the workshop activities from the comfort and safety of their own home. This is particularly important for individuals living with RA, who manage compromised immune systems, often experience pain and fatigue, and may even face mobility challenges.

The 2020 virtual Imagine RA workshop proved to be an incredible success, with Pfizer gaining valuable insights for future activities. A post-workshop survey of participants showed that 100% would join similar activities in the future and welcome new collaborative opportunities with Pfizer. Nearly every participant said that the most valuable aspect of the workshop was the chance to engage with fellow advocates from across the country in an effort to strengthen bonds throughout the broader Canadian RA community.

Whether the shift to a virtual event was born of necessity or innovative thinking, the value of these new event formats cannot be ignored, today and in the future. As our industry continues exploring virtual events into the new year, here are a few things to consider:

1. Cater to your audience

Virtual events are not one size fits all. Consider your audience and their specific needs. For the Imagine RA program, the team accommodated needs such as hearing challenges by using a virtual platform that enabled closed captioning in real time.

2. Consider timing and pacing

Unlike with in-person events, maintaining the attention and engagement of attendees can be challenging in virtual events, especially as virtual meeting fatigue sets in. When working with individuals living with a chronic condition, it’s important to think through how the event activities could impact participants’ mental and physical well-being.

Depending on the intensity of the discussion you expect to have, consider breaking up virtual events into multiple sessions that will allow participants to engage with energy and enthusiasm without tiring too easily. Schedule the event around a time that works for participants, especially if they require time in the morning to warm up or in the afternoon to rest.

3. Up the energy

At NATIONAL, we are fortunate to have experienced and engaging facilitators who can keep conversations moving, whether in-person or virtually. An energetic facilitator will always set a positive tone for the rest of the event and encourage more active participation from attendees.

As we look forward to the year ahead, we welcome the opportunity to support your plans to have meaningful engagements in these challenging times. Reach out to learn more about how we can help: