Virtually Standing: The CDISC and PHUSE Challenge

This year’s autumn events have been far from what we are all used to, but Dave Iberson-Hurst and AJ de Montjoie focus on the positive virtual event experiences and look forward to 2021.

Another CDISC conference has finished and PHUSE has just wrapped up. Normally this means a hurried goodbye to someone in the corridor at the conference venue, a rushed trip to the airport, a bad sandwich grabbed at departures and worrying about having left something in a hotel room. For the CDISC US conference, it would mean a long overnight-flight home, getting back to the house in the morning and feeling like doing nothing for the rest of the day. This year it is all different.

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CDISC: Dave Iberson-Hurst’s Virtual Event Perspective

CDISC quickly changed the EU conference to a virtual event in April but the USA event was the first conference where it was planned to be virtual,  and I have just recorded a presentation for the forthcoming PHUSE EU event. I thought it would be good to reflect on this abrupt change to presenting virtually and also the actual events themselves.

The Good

On the plus side there is the obvious benefit of not having to travel to the venue saving the time spent waiting at airports, the security line and other such joys of international travel. With that comes less disruption to your working life, less time away from the day job. Also, it makes you reflect about the impact all that travel has on our environment, maybe it’s better to be at home?

The Bad

On the negative side there is more work. There is the usual slide production but there is also the need to record your presentation as a backup just in case there are technical difficulties during the actual event. It is unnerving how the internet detects that you are on an important zoom, teams or webex call and decides now is the time to lose your connection. Add in an unfamiliar event tool and mishaps will occur.

“Final Slide Set”

My main regret with virtual events is the lack of opportunity to torment my session chair with a last minute “final” slide set; virtual events remove that early morning creativity as you realise you can improve a talk with the one extra picture or bullet point. I apologise to all chairs past and future that this is still the case … that hotel room and flight is often a good time to be focused on a presentation!

A virtual event does not allow you to feed off the other presenters and the audience. There is nothing like watching the faces in front of you, aligning your talk to one earlier in the session when you can connect the dots. Having faces you know in the audience who have some relation to the topic, helps me highlight practical experience from the past. We are human after all and being connected visually and being ‘in the room’ is very much part of our psyche.

What about Questions?

And the big difference is questions. There is a big loss from the real event and questions via chat doesn’t really cut it, especially when they are being moderated by someone else and you can’t see them. What the moderator thinks is worth asking might not be the question that you, as a presenter would choose, knowing the audience and your presentation. And then once your talk and session are over, the end of session chat with people who didn’t want to ask questions in public is sadly missing and is another big downside.

If you are doing a talk live, then the 10 minutes before you start is just as stressful as a face to face event. Will you remember all those killer points, the story that flows through your slides, the small jokes you planned, never mind the other numerous other worries and demons in your head. Finally, you hope the previous speaker hasn’t over run and you start.

Virtual Event Podium

Virtually Standing CDISC PresentationI like standing, waving my hands around but this becomes tricky in the virtual world. For the CDISC presentation, I built a mini podium to ensure I didn’t get that “looking up someone’s nostrils” look favoured by many on zoom. I try and look at the camera, as you would pick out someone in the audience in an in-person presentation but, as I say, you don’t get that feedback from a green spot staring back at you. The thing I have learnt is to pay attention to lighting and also to the background (I feel I should credit my wife here – she knows this stuff and started moving lamps around). I have favoured a blank white wall but there may well be better choices as the tools for these events become more sophisticated.

AJ’s voice from the Virtual CDISC Booth

Even though we weren’t face to face, the CDISC Interchange went well. Of course, no matter what the event, the content is key and good presentations which engage and inspire are really what you need. The virtual event booth went far beyond the expectations of the S-cubed team and the platform supporting exhibitors was well organised. The Gamification of the event certainly seemed to help ensure that people dropped by and said hello, or requested information. The EU event will be virtual too and I suspect will be as much fun, or as much fun as you can have while trying to keep your partner, dog, cat, child out of the room during your presentation.

You can watch Dave’s presentation here:


and you can download the slides here. 

… Fast Forward to PHUSE

Dave On Demand

It’s disappointing to not be presenting live as I don’t know if someone will see my presentation. I am not sure how I will receive questions and it’s going to be hard to spend any time at any of the presentations, when they are spread out over a week. But as a little self-promotion, Karen Fanouilliere (Head of Clinical Information Governance and Clinical Data Foundation Program Leader at Sanofi) and I have recorded our presentation entitled, ‘Goodbye Excel, My Old Friend: A collaboration between Sanofi and S-cubed.’ It’s available on demand in the Standards Implementation Stream. If you have any questions, please reach out to me via LinkedIn and I’ll be happy to answer them.

Goodbye Excel, My Old Friend: A collaboration between Sanofi and S-cubed (slides)

The Booth

I must admit that I always enjoy the ‘Booth’ experience at PHUSE. Those gritty discussions in front of your software demo and being challenged by those with other points of view is what drives development forward. I haven’t had the time to really explore the On Demand recordings, but I know at some point, it will be good to see what my fellow presenters are discussing.

View from the Professional Development Stream Chair – AJ reflects on the Virtual Event Experience

I know I felt a huge sense of relief in Amsterdam when the Professional Development Stream had finished, and my co-chairs (Jenni Dootson and Diana Stuart) and I could relax. This year has been harder in some ways. The Professional Development steam, probably more than others, needs people in front of one another sharing experiences. We wondered if we could pull it off, would a poster in our stream work? Thanks to Alana Harris, it certainly did! We were delighted by the high quality of the abstracts and the enthusiasm of our presenters, who made everything run smoothly.

Sketchnoting Self Care Battery MeterThe live workshop was fantastic (thanks to Jon McNestrie) and I ‘drew’ my response to it as we went through. Emma Moore, as one of the ‘Standing Room Only’ presentations, was inspiring and incredibly brave to open up about her personal experiences. Actually, considering the pressures we were all under at work, I am very proud of what we created for the PHUSE attendees and say a heartfelt, ‘Thank You’ to all our presenters.

The Missing Piece

What have I missed? Well, to be honest being in the room with Jenni and Diana more than anything. We’re all quite different but it’s how you work together that brings about something so positive. Like Dave, I have missed the interaction at our booth. The social evenings at PHUSE are always so much fun, but I must admit that in the dark of impending Nordic winter and looming Danish exams, I didn’t take part this year, so the networking that I always enjoy was not there this time. If there’s one thing I think I’d add to a PHUSE virtual event, it’s the ability to network during the working day, particularly as people have blocked out time to attend.

What’s Next

As the year progresses, we will continue to share our thoughts in these virtual sessions. Kirsten Langendorf and Dave will be presenting at the CDISC French User Group on November 26th focusing on Biomedical Concepts (‘To BC or not To BC’ a play on our Danish and Shakespearean heritage without the gravedigger and the ghost!). We’re hoping to be part of the CDISC Technicon again next year and the European Interchange of course. We never stop trying to educate and be part of those important discussions.

We suspect we will not return quickly to in-person events. When, and if, we do then possibly they will be a mix of in-person and virtual with attendees being able to make a choice. And why not? Travel is expensive, time-consuming and an inefficient use of time, never mind the health aspects of being a potential virus carrier. In the meantime, whatever way we ‘meet’ we’re always happy to see you.