“Pivot to Virtual” – this has been the catch phrase encapsulating the lives of meeting and event organizers since March 2020. For our not-for-profits clients who focus on conferences as their primary member education and engagement tool, the move to virtual has been an outright necessity.
Over 800 participants attend the four day Canadian Association for HIV Research (CAHR) conference, which is a critical source of information for the Canadian HIV research community, and an opportunity for researchers from across Canada to meet and network. When it became apparent in mid-March that the in-person conference scheduled for April 30 to May 3 would not be possible, the decision to move to a virtual conference was made quickly to ensure the research would be shared in a timely and accessible manner.
At Sea to Sky Meeting and Association Management (Sea to Sky), while organizing online meetings has been a skill in our toolbox for many years, to make the switch in under six weeks to an online conference was a challenge and an opportunity. To meet the challenge, we quickly redrafted the meeting timeline, broadened our delivery team and redefined roles, and held daily team meetings to monitor progress and provide assistance where needed.
The end result was a virtual conference that featured 17 plenary presentations, five live Q&A sessions, the CAHR annual general meeting, 45 oral abstract presentations and over 250 e-posters. Over 700 people participated in this free event, with 450 peak viewers. All content was made available for viewing on demand via CAHR’s website after the close of the virtual conference on May 2.
Tip to Planners: The two-day conference was a combination of pre-recorded and live elements. By pre-recording the keynote presentations, we were able to ensure the quality of the video was consistent, and by including live Q&A periods with keynote presenters, we were also able to give the audience a level of engagement close to what they would normally experience at the in-person conference.
As meeting planners, we know that the demand for hybrid meetings (offering both in-person and online programming) has been growing over the last decade and will be a staple for future meeting models once the pandemic is a distant memory. At Sea to Sky, we are able to guide our clients through this transition confidently and effectively. ‘Pivot to virtual’ is complete.