A three-week transformation to a virtual event

Kenes Group’s medical conference, The 2nd AAT-AD/PD Focus Meeting 2020, takes off successfully with an innovative mindset

The virtual lobby. Credit: Kenes Group

GENEVA - In an extraordinary time when many exhibitions and conferences are being cancelled and revenue losses are growing daily, one PCO has managed to turn a catastrophe into a revenue generating event.

Kenes Group is dedicated to medical and scientific events. The company's team of over 350 professionals in 19 locations has more than 100 long-term clients.

The 2nd AAT-AD/PD Focus Meeting 2020 took place from 2-5 April as an entirely virtual event. It was originally scheduled to take place in Vienna, Austria. The event is focused on showcasing the latest breakthroughs in treatment, translational R&D, early diagnosis, drug development, and clinical trials in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other related neurological disorders. Its 2018 debut in Torino, Italy, drew 1,337 participants.

Exhibition hall listing exhibitors. Credit: Kenes Group

This virtual event was attended by 1,143 healthcare professionals from 56 countries during the four days of streaming. There is still an option to register and get access to the full event content in the next 3 months. Full participants pay €830 (US$902), while participants from developing countries and trainees (nurses/students/fellows) pay €580 and €430 respectively.

During the event dates, there was new content being added daily to the forum discussions and live streaming Meet the Professor sessions. These now remain as recordings. The live sessions also included audience interaction with Q&A.

Mr Ori Lahav, VP Clients & Operations, Kenes Group, said: "As we announced that the event is turning to fully virtual under three weeks before the original dates, we did not change the registration fees. Most of the registered participants remained on board after the announcement; thus, it did not make sense to have them and the newly registered delegates pay different fees, that's why the new registrants paid the same full amount."

Converting a meeting under three weeks into a complete virtual experience was possible due to the flexibility of Kenes Group's IT team. Working around the clock, the team assisted 250 speakers to pre-record their lectures. 14 forums and Meet the Professor sessions were live-streamed during the event.

Said Mr Lahav: "The biggest challenge for us turned out to be quite unexpected. The goal for this event was to keep the scientific programme, as much as possible, as it was planned for the live event. That meant that we had to pre-record a few hundred speakers. What we wanted to do was to automate the process with easy and intuitive instructions and a simple click on a link.

"However, our team quickly realised that many speakers did not feel comfortable with the technology, no matter how simplified it was. That required us to quickly change tactics and make available our IT team to mentor, support, and record 250 sessions around the clock."

The exhibitors supported Kenes Group by moving to a fully virtual function, but they were not too sure whether delegates would choose to visit their virtual booths/stands.

The virtual exhibition site. Credit: Kenes Group

"On Day One, they started seeing that there was indeed a lot of interest in the stands, so they actually asked for last minute updates and changes.

"What is of more importance to companies is actually the attendance in the Sponsored Symposia. These are presentations done by the industry supporters, and what was interesting here, was that at one time we had over 900 participants listening to the symposia, and we have never seen so many delegates in the room during live events.

"So, it is safe to say that this format worked very well for companies. We also received a request via Twitter, if one could purchase a ticket only for the exhibition," said Mr Lahav.

The sponsored symposium: it drew over 900 participants, a figure that was more than previous live events. Credit: Kenes Group

In the lead up to the virtual event, a Sneak Preview video was launched on Friday, 20 March, via YouTube. A moving hand on the screen guided participants as to where to click on the screen, with a "make sure you follow us on social media" greeting, followed by an introduction to what the virtual exhibition and conference would look like.

The hand then moved across the screen to click on E-Posters, which showcased research on the hottest topics by global experts. Participants could view the world map listing other participants by country and click on their names to contact them.

This systematic guided tour of the hand which went on to show participants on how to engage in Scientific Sessions, Forum Discussions, Meet the Professor Sessions, Sponsored Symposia and the exhibition booths, made it easy for participants to envisage how they could participate. It also reminded participants that they could "stop by" the Kenes Group exhibition virtual booth or visit their website.

Attendees who attended the Scientific Sessions could earn up to 27 CME credits and they received their CME/CPD certificate after completing the online evaluation and credit claiming procedure.

Although Kenes Group had some cancellations, they received about 200 new delegate registrations in the two weeks leading up to the event. "We even received a few comments that they would not be able to attend if it was taking place in Vienna, Austria, and that this option suited them better," said Mr Lahav. Going forward, he expects at least 3 to 4 of planned congresses to go virtual this year.