Helen Gregson, CEO of the European Society of Endocrinology, looks back on their recent virtual congress with online TV content producer Roy Sheppard.
RS What did you learn following your first virtual congress in 2020?
HG Like so many societies, we had very little time to switch to virtual. So, we offered it free to members and charged non-members. There was a strong sense among contributors and attendees that we were all in it together which meant everyone was very understanding when we had inevitable glitches. Afterwards, we realised several key things: virtual was more environmentally friendly; more people from more countries attended when in the past they might not have been able to afford to; there is enormous cooperation and friendly competition between endocrinology societies around the world. Virtual ‘democratised’ the science which means ANY society that provides high-quality, easy-to-access content becomes a competitor.
RS What became your priorities for 2021?
HG In 2021 we were going to charge everyone to attend. So, I knew we had to raise our game by becoming FAR more professional and innovative. We took the decision to pre-record most of the presentations – with lots of live Q&A after key sessions. This worked very well for everyone – and generally kept us to time which is always a major challenge.
RS I suggested a live end-of-day online interactive TV show with summaries of the best science with insights from a team of leading endocrinologists. Why did you go with it?
HG This ticked the ‘innovation’ box. It was definitely a new approach for us. That appealed to me instantly, although a few on the team were a bit fearful and sceptical. Yes, it might be a bit risky. I figured it would provide a fresh angle, a change in pace and inject some new energy. And it did exactly that. It was so fast paced, and even though the discussions were highly scientific, and I do not have a scientific background, each programme became the highlight of my day. The time flew by. I wanted to hear more. The contributors and the sceptics loved it too. It also had an informal, calm vibe. And it was just like at the end of the day at a f2f conference when we all congregate in bars and coffee shops to swap stories and insights about the day. Because it was new, it took a while for delegates to discover it, despite our marketing efforts! But 250-300 people found it each day. One of the first decisions we’ve made is to propose bringing it back and expanding it into a morning and evening show for next year’s congress in Milan. And it will fit perfectly into a hybrid model which we’ll also be exploring in the forthcoming months.
RS What data and insights have you gained overall for your 2021 congress?
HG We’re still crunching the numbers, but we’ve discovered:
- A fancy exhibition has limited value. We need to engage with industry differently and much more in relation to the delivery of educational content. They agree.
- Audiences told us they wanted more interactivity – which we provided. We found a real enthusiasm within the group discussions to post, share and curate relevant content with each other. We can and will build on this for the future. The one-to-one interactions were very well used.
- Pre-recording most presentations was a good decision.
- Audience engagement doubled from five hours per congress day in 2020 with the free registration model to 10 hours a day with the paid registration model. And that doesn’t include our very popular ESE-On-Demand catch-up service post-event. This is hugely encouraging.
- We had 3,400 registered delegates. And financially – the congress performed pretty much in line with a physical meeting – even potentially slightly better! Which is very good news for the other charitable activities that this important revenue stream supports.