The Australian Pain Society’s 40th Annual Scientific Meeting (APS 2020) was meant to be held from 5 – 8 April 2020 in Hobart, TAS. We had been anxiously watching as COVID-19 infection numbers grew, and delegates and speakers began withdrawing their involvement.
Notably, on Friday 13 March our team watched PM Scott Morrison make the announcement that gatherings over 500 people could no longer go ahead. We had seen the writing on the wall with our last event, a conference of 1,000 doctors cancelled the day before it started. Our team told to stop packing name badges at the ICC Sydney, NSW.
The federal ban on mass gatherings was a second blow to our team and deflated everyone who had worked for months to get APS 2020 ready to go ahead in Hobart. But this was our new reality and just 12 months on our client decided to go ahead with the 2021 ASM regardless, committing to a fully virtual meeting in late December 2020.
It is nothing new to us now, but we are pleased our client had the confidence to proceed in the new landscape.
Normally a 3.5-day program, their format needed to be reinvented to make it work in the virtual world. Seven pre-conference workshops were brought forward, and run 7 days before the conference proper, to give people a break between such intense online learning. The 2.5 day conference program was then shortened to a 2 day full event with 4 plenary sessions, 20 topical concurrent sessions, 3 sponsored sessions, 2 Meet the Experts sponsored sessions and 95 3-minute e-poster recordings. A 4-part webinar series, which includes a second presentation from the ASM’s international speakers, was designed to augment the main conference program.
DCC&A used Events Air - On Air to run the virtual meeting and partnered with Touch Point to manage the onsite delivery. Over 100 hours were spent providing exhibitor and speaker briefings . Speaker briefings were imperative to ensure they were comfortable with the technology and the exhibitor briefings enabled the exhibitors to make the most of the platform to engage the audience.
Using a virtual platform for a conference traditionally held in a face to face environment was not the only innovation at APS 2021. Due to the virtual platform, the poster presenters were offered a short video presentation of their work rather than the static onsite poster. This created a more engaging poster session and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. This is something we will continue to offer poster authors at APS ASMs.
Each year, I work with the Scientific Program Committee to try and make sustainable and lasting change to their ASM. As an inaugural initiative in 2021, the APS Board committed to planting a tree per registered delegate. The Plant-a-Tree Program, run by Carbon Neutral aims to restore landscapes and reproduce natural ecosystems by only planting trees and shrubs that are native to the region.
Delegates were also able to purchase their own trees during the registration process. In addition to this, all 7 pre-conference workshop convenors agreed to spend the $1000 budget they collectively had for speaker gifts on trees.
A total of 1351 trees will be planted on behalf of the APS. This equates to almost half of the Melbourne Cricket Ground!
The conference was a great success for our client and the delegates really enjoyed being able to get together, share knowledge and engage with each other having missed out last year.
Virtual Attendee Feedback:
The ability to go back and watch sessions after the conference is fantastic, especially as there were often two concurrent sessions I was interested in. I wish that ability was available for real-life conferences.
Very well done everyone! You have really done a great job on all this 'virtual conference' stuff. Also, the kindness of the speakers really shone through for me so it hasn't lost the emotional component by being conducted in a virtual space.
Well done, was fantastic, very accessible, easy to use, good quality, great program, great platform, thank you!
The content was extraordinary. I was very impressed and have many leads to follow up for my practice improvement.
Thanks very much for all the work that went into developing the scientific programme, adjusting to the mode of delivery, training people and gathering recordings in advance so that the conference was a success.