With the impact of COVID-19, virtual congresses have exploded. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although a virtual meeting has a more limited schedule over fewer days than an in-person meeting, it will still offer a wealth of important information and insights from speakers.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) announced in April that it would be holding its annual meeting virtually from May 29 to 31. For some of us, it will be the first time in many, many years that we skip the annual pilgrimage to Chicago. And while virtual congresses are an adjustment, we believe that a little planning and knowledge will help registered attendees obtain the most out of their experience.

What’s the plan, Stan?

Planning Ahead: Despite the more limited schedule, it is still important that attendees set aside time to thoroughly review the complete program ahead of the meeting.

To that end, you can search the ASCO online program by keyword (e.g., “lung oral”) or filter by “Track” or “Type” to narrow your results. Outside of the scientific program, you can set up networking events and attend Virtual Exhibits and Ancillary Educational Events.

Scientific Exchange: Content will be available online in two formats: on-demand and broadcast. On-demand sessions will be available starting Friday at 8:00 a.m. ET, including oral, poster and poster discussion sessions, as well as track-based Clinical Science Symposia.

Scheduled live broadcasts will be held on Saturday and Sunday, with a live chat feature that allows attendees to connect, pose questions and discuss the science. These sessions should be available in the ASCO Meeting Library two hours after the presentations.

As for abstracts, they are already available online and can be downloaded by specific cancer type (e.g., NSCLC, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, etc.). Late-breaking abstracts will be released in the ASCO Meeting Library on Thursday.

The ASCO Daily News will cover practice-changing abstracts and will be available through email alerts, on the ASCO daily news website, and available as a podcast through iTunes or Google Play.

Industry Showcase: Industry partners will be able to showcase their products in a number of ways. Virtual Exhibits will launch on Friday at the same time as the on-demand content goes live and will be available online through the end of August. There, attendees will be able to participate in virtual events presented by industry leaders at the Industry Expert Theater, as well as browse exhibits. Several CME-accredited, industry-sponsored Ancillary Educational Events that require advance registration will also be offered. 

What’s the challenge? 

Interactions and Distractions: As everything is virtual and available online after the meeting, there will be a temptation to schedule the experience around our lives. However, as with all virtual meetings, setting aside protected time to fully immerse in the virtual ASCO experience will help attendees engage deeply.

Networking in the Exhibition Space: While some of us are lamenting the loss of steps from hiking across the convention center, it is still possible to view the creativity of the Virtual Exhibits and set up virtual meetings through the ASCO online portal. Attendees can use the “Virtual Networking” or “Find a Colleague” platform to connect with other attendees, ASCO staff, and industry representatives. Once you have found someone to connect with, you can either chat one-on-one or set up a video meeting.

Scientific Exchange: Because so much of the program will be on-demand with no opportunities for interaction with the presenters, catching up with abstract authors will be challenging. Reaching out through Virtual Networking is one opportunity to chat. It is also possible to set up/join group chats during presentations through a third-party platform to create a “viewing party” and discuss perspectives. Finally, other meetings (e.g., advisory boards, steering committees, etc.) can be set up around the conference, but take note of the blackout times that coincide with the broadcast hours, as well as attendees’ time zones.

We know that oncologists and researchers are increasingly relying on social media, especially Twitter, to discuss science in the absence of live meetings, and we expect that to be the same at #ASCO20.

With attendees scattered around the globe, connections with others are going to look different and exist on different platforms. But we’re fortunate to have the tools to still generate these connections because they are certainly still worth having—especially in an unprecedented moment like this. We are looking forward to ASCO 2020 and everything it has to virtually offer!

Contributions to this article were made by Sarah Frazer, Brian Haas, and Jared Wels of W2O.  


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