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11/21/2013 5:00 PM

Pulling together a live broadcast of 20 hours of presentations is much more of an undertaking than one would expect. What goes into a production of this magnitude?  Here’s a snapshot from behind the scenes at Canada’s Virtual Forum:

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Canada’s Virtual Foroum (top row, left to right): Co-Chairs Cecilia Bloxom and Hugh MacLeod; the Video crew; (bottom row, left to right): Third time presenter, Vickie Kaminski; a screen shot of what the virtual audience viewed online; and Moderator extraordinaire, Kaaren Neufeld.

Planning begins at least a year in advance – in fact planning has already commenced for the 2014 Forum.  Co-chairs Cecilia Bloxom, Director of Strategic Communications and Hugh MacLeod, CEO of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute lead the 10-member Planning Committee. It is their vision and inspiration that is the backbone of Canada’s Virtual Forum on Patient Safety and Quality Improvement. They develop the program, vet the speakers and review the presentations. Hugh and Cecilia were also behind the podium during the Forum speaking to the 5,840 viewers from 1,913 sites in 15 countries who tuned in to watch this year’s presentations.

The conference management staff of four was onsite to monitor online registration, post the presentations online and handle logistics of the Forum, including set-up, catering, travel needs for the 40 presenters, and acting as a liaison between the speakers and the technical crew. Pat Rodenburg, Conference Manager says that a virtual conference adds a layer of complexity and there are factors like weather, power outages and internet connectivity issues that are outside of your control.  “With a virtual audience you have to create a sense of excitement in the room,” says Rodenburg. “Throughout the week, you could see the energy building as the speakers listened to one another.”  

To set the stage for the Forum, it can be best described as a spaghetti nest that includes miles of wiring and hundreds of brightly shining lights. The six-man production crew monitors the sound so that sound levels are balanced for online viewers, coordinates the transition of videos and slides, directs the camera to capture onstage presentations and much more. They are onsite preparing for and capturing the live broadcast each day. According to the crew, producing in a virtual format is much different than a live event.  It is not just point and shoot the camera; the technical staff must watch the speaker’s body language closely to determine what actions must be taken next. 

Using webcasting to broadcast the event live to our online audience was supported by a staff of two. An added complexity this year was working with TeleHealth to make the broadcast available in real time to 80,000 employees at Alberta Health Services. One of the advantages of webcasting is that it provides a calculation of the carbon footprint and environmental impact of participating in an online environment. To date, viewing the Canada’s virtual forum broadcast online has saved over 1,920 tonnes of CO2 emissions. 

New to the Virtual Forum this year was an engagement and measurement tool, called Cover It Live. This technology allowed for immediate polling of online viewers and the ability to send messages to viewers throughout the presentations.  For example, when a speaker talked about implementing medication reconciliation, within minutes we could let the speaker know that 69 per cent of viewers had MedRec systems in place, while 32 per cent said they did not. Jason Thompson, Communications Officer collected questions for the speakers which were answered at the podium, crafted messages to highlight key information and links, and conducted random polls throughout the day.  “We really pushed hard to adapt this technology to meet our needs and in a sense it got the conversation going,” says Thompson.  “The opportunity to ask questions and conduct polls in real time brings the virtual voice into the room and brings everyone closer together.  The moderator and the speakers loved this added participation.”

Abisaac Saraga, Web and Social Media Manager engaged audiences on Twitter and monitored social media analytics and web-related activities for the Forum.  The #asklistentalk was on fire all week with over 200,000 impressions a day.  There was an average of 1,500 tweets a day this year, compared to a total of 400 tweets the previous year. “Social Media provided the venue to continue the conversation,” says Saraga.  “We were able to spread and improve the effectiveness of our messages.”

Back at the Canadian Patient Safety Institute offices, Karla Horon, Marketing Manager was blasting daily emails to profile what was happening, to capture interest and keep the Virtual Forum top of mind. 

What is it like to speak to thousands, yet only a handful of people are in the room? Kaaren Neufeld has moderated the Forum for the past three years. This was her first year running solo as moderator for the English presentations. Kaaren’s poise and ability to think quickly on her feet keeps the program running smoothly, without delays or glitches. She asked impromptu questions and quickly summarized the thoughts and ideas being presented.  “It is a strange sensation with a virtual format,” says Kaaren.  “You don’t instant feedback from your audience.  You have to imagine their reaction -- if they are laughing at a joke, or clapping in appreciation.”

Vickie Kaminski, CEO of Eastern Health is a veteran at the Virtual Forum, having presented for the past three years. The first two years, Vickie participated in panel discussions and this year, she was a sole presenter for a leadership session.  “You don’t get an immediate sense of what is capturing the interest of the audience through the virtual format,” says Kaminski.  “You have to be passionate about your topic and remember that for some people this is new information.  This is a very effective and powerful way of communicating.”

Some of the return speakers, like Donna Davis, Co-Chair of Patients for Patient Safety Canada admit to still getting stage fright in front of a virtual audience.  This was Donna’s third time speaking and she says it is really inspiring to know you are reaching people around the world.  “It is hard to know what impact you are having, but when you are able to connect with so many people, you know you have the opportunity to make a difference; that is what makes it worthwhile.”

For first-time presenters, there was the same nervousness speaking to a virtual audience as you would encounter with a live audience.  Some described the experience as weird and petrifying.  One speaker said they had to imagine their audience naked to get through their presentation.  While they did not feel the need to adjust their speaking notes based on the reaction of the audience in the room the immediate feedback they received from Twitter and questions posted from the online audience created a conversation and helped to engage the audience with the discussion.  Although nervousness prevailed, all presenters said without a doubt, that they would participate again.

All presentations from Canada’s Virtual Forum on Patient Safety and Quality Improvement are available for viewing at  Mark your calendar for Canada’s Virtual Forum 2014, to be held during Canadian Patient Safety Week, October 27-31, 2014.