Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most investigator training was in-person. Sites and sponsors looked forward to gathering in hotel ballrooms worldwide, and studies relied heavily on clinical research associates (CRAs) to deliver training at site initiation visits. Today, clinical trial studies are shifting to virtual, and web-based on-demand training is quickly becoming the industry norm.
Here are five things you need to know to make your virtual investigator trainings effective and engaging:
1. Invest in a rockstar event planner. Whether you’re hosting 10 attendees or 110, an event organizer is a must. This is the person who will take care of everything from surveying sites for the best meeting dates and times to sending out customized invites, tracking registrations and following up with reminders to boost registration. But you also want to create a quality experience for your guests. That’s why you need an event planner who thinks outside the box and knows how to make a memorable meet-up, even if it’s virtual.
Pro Tip: Ask your planner to send attendees a packaged catered box of snacks and beverages to recreate the hospitality experience often enjoyed at live investigator meetings. You can send the box the day before the meeting with a personalized letter from the sponsor's medical lead, and you'll have their attention before the meeting ever begins.
2. You also need a great technical producer. With a virtual event, you need a tech who can go beyond managing lighting and sound to tackle things like bandwidth, streaming and cybersecurity using virtual platforms that are safe and compliant. To keep the vibe of a live setting, ask your tech to help you set up virtual breakout rooms. You can also set up live streaming from a green screen location where all the presenters are centrally located, a popular trend for virtually connecting with audiences. Think morning TV talk show with hosts live from the plaza. It’s all about creating energy in a virtual space.
Pro Tip: if you want to get (and keep!) your sites’ attention, have the technical producer update the green screen to display a background image that speaks to your audience like a landmark in their city or another exciting locale.
3. Help your presenters get better at reading the virtual room. Presenters have to be the expert in the content, but now they also need to be familiar with the virtual platform and equipment like webcams or high-quality audio headsets. And this goes for session facilitators, moderators and meeting hosts, too. In a live meeting, presenters can immediately see the audience’s response and, if needed, shift gears in their presentation when they see a coordinator has a confused look on her face. In virtual events, it may be more challenging to read the room and field questions, but a little practice can go a long way.
Pro tip: Do a dress rehearsal with the technical producer to help your presenters work at the kinks ahead of time. In a live event, if something goes awry, the presenter can look back to the AV staff and say, "Start my video." But in a virtual event, you need to anticipate these challenges and have a game plan for how to handle them.
4. Up your game by adding plenty of support staff for the event. This may sound like common sense, but if attendees struggle to log in, cannot ask questions, or the meeting platform crashes, everyone will be frustrated. And if attendees can't complete their training, patients can’t enroll in the study. A little planning can go a long way. Troubleshoot on the front end of your meeting, and make a list of contingencies. Then, even if everything goes off without a hitch, you'll have a backup plan if you need it.
Pro tip: Don’t skimp on support. A well-organized, seamless live virtual meeting, especially one with a lot of pressure to succeed, needs plenty of tech support staff.
5. Keep it real. Yes, this is a virtual event, but with a bit of practice and a few tricks of the trade, it can still feel personal and engaging, like a live event. For example, share your webcam, and if possible, have your audience share their webcams so you can enjoy the box of snacks you sent them together. Talk as if your audience is right in front of you. You can also try to keep the meeting as short as possible by focusing on the primary objectives and endpoints of the study and any key risks or operational challenges you think may occur.
Pro tip: Allow your sites to lead discussion groups and breakout sessions with peers in their region. And consider using virtual meetings beyond site activation to engage with your sites regularly.
Virtual is becoming the new normal, and that gives you the opportunity to reimagine trainings. Yes, clinical research physicians and their support staff still need to be adequately trained, but without the logistics of physical travel, virtual meetings can open up new possibilities for more frequent, shorter meetings or innovative ways to collaborate with different research sites and teams. Virtual investigative training allows you to build an engaging experience and explore new ways to bring people closer together with purpose and inspiration.
Author: Amanda Steenbergen, Sr. Director – Global Clinical Training
Amanda has over 20 years of biopharma experience, including over 8 years of clinical site experience as a certified clinical research coordinator. In 2015, Amanda transitioned from the clinical research site space to the pharma/CRO space, where she was responsible for training strategy development and delivery of Investigator Site training in cooperation with the cross-functional clinical operations teams at Eli Lilly. In her current role as Sr. Director of Global Clinical Training, she serves as a liaison between clients and internal teams in establishing best practices for clinical trial training, including developing training content in collaboration with sponsors and research industry key opinion leaders.