Next Generation - the digital further development of congresses
EASD – four letters that stand for experts from over 110 countries who have made diabetes research their personal concern. They meet annually to exchange experience, network and learn with common purpose under the arch of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes .
Since 2004, Interplan has supported EASD as a congress agency. Depending on the particular venue, has been responsible for exhibition and sponsor management as well as hotel services.
More than 14,000 participants were present when the EASD Annual Meeting took place for the second consecutive year entirely virtually in perfection from 28 September to 1 October 2021.
These times are exciting for events: What will congresses look like in 2022 and beyond? Which perceptions, findings and experiences from the past two years will thrive and shape future event concepts? How can new virtual formats be combined with the familiar live formats to make them successful hybrid congresses?
Oliver Heinke, Karin Seidel and Lisanne Leonhardt from the responsible project team at Interplan are taking us on a journey into the future – drawing upon the example of the EASD Annual Meeting.
What were the highlights from this year’s Virtual EASD and what can we take into planning the congresses in the future?
Karin Seidel: It was noticeable that dealing with the virtual platform is now routine matter for participants. Many new developments and functions have been integrated since the first Virtual EASD 2020. One focus was on new possibilities for personal interactions in virtual space: For example, networking was supported 1:1 with video chats. Furthermore, the participants in a session hall were visible. This meant that spontaneous discussion groups could easily be formed to exchange information.
The technical improvement of lecture and presentation management for speakers constituted another important step. The system maps the entire process efficiently and conveniently. Speakers are able to coordinate the recording and uploading of the contributions themselves online with ease, right up to the live lecture.
We have designed terrific formats for the symposia this year, such as the Ten-Minute Flashlights. The service was very well-received. Visitors experimented enthusiastically with the PhotoGallery, as well as with the individual, personal congress programme. People danced with the avatar and even initiated flash mobs! Some of these formats can be integrated perfectly into hybrid concepts.
Lisanne Leonhardt: The exhibiting companies presented appealing online-profiles! I think this is also due to the fact that handling has become easier for the companies, thanks to fast connections and the ease of setting up.
Congress TV as an accompanying format, has been a great success! Professionally hosted by Vivienne Parry (BBC), the TV team presented a varied and interesting programme with discussions, interviews, portraits and congress information, in a compact and benefitial form, and also sometimes over and above the thematic horizon.
Karin Seidel: One positive effect of the tremendous pace of digitalisation is, that we had much closer exchanges with industry partners than before, against the backdrop of the changing congress world. The interfaces between customers, service providers and the organisation have become more fluid. We have grown together and are thankful that our customers have embarked on the steps along with us. It was great fun, motivated us a lot and we all learned an enormous amount. In the digital world brought us much closer at the human level.
So what are the most important insights and lessons for congresses in the coming year and in the future?
Oliver Heinke: We see a new development in interactive meeting formats, for example in the "fish-bowl" concept. In a hybrid congress, the format can take place both virtually as well as face-to-face. Our experience from the virtual realm: The hurdle is still too high for interactivity at this level, a familiarisation phase is required. We are firmly convinced that we will have different experiences with similar formats on the ground and that we can create added value for scientific exchanges.
Lisanne Leonhardt: It was already apparent before the pandemic that the sector would gradually want to make use of digital and virtual formats. Corona was the catalyst and driver for the accelerated transition. For organisers as well as for us, it is clear that virtual programmes – including in a mix with face-to-face aspects – will be maintained. In addition to boosting the reach, this primarily opens up good additional benefits and greater flexibility for participants. It offers so many opportunities! On the post-production side, for example, multimedia content from the TV channel can be used to promulgate topics for communications in social networks. This keeps the community active throughout the year. Further training using on-demand content or ongoing exchanges via the existing platform can be attractive beyond the actual congress itself. And, of course, we have also further developed statistics & tracking component for monitoring and evaluations.
Karin Seidel: In fact, some of the purely digital formats haven't yet reached the desired level of acceptance. Even though they seem very appealing, interactive and innovative at first glance, they are still not winning over all visitors. For hybrid congresses, it is important to make effective use of the respective special features to optimally combine the on-site and virtual scenarios. The best of both worlds!
And in Stockholm at the EASD 2022 …
Oliver Heinke: Of course, a hybrid event is planned. With the best of both worlds and some new ideas. It is a challenge to integrate the digital platform optimally into the face-to-face event. Which elements can be linked, how do we manage to unite two different groups of visitors with different needs? We will demonstrate that next year in Stockholm!