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Key considerations for designing effective congresses in 2022

By Jaqueline Campbell, Project Director at SWM Partners

One of the key elements that makes a congress unique is its size. This type of event generally attracts thousands of people, who not only come together for education and information, the opportunity to network with others in their industry is a key motivator.

Congresses generally occur annually or biannually, and it’s not uncommon to see people travel from all over the globe to attend them. This of course changed amid the pandemic, and now as we return to a sense of normality, organisers are taking a number of different routes when it comes to evolving the format of their congresses.

Bolstering success with a multi-tiered approach

While face-to-face experiences have returned, we’re also seeing a trend towards the hybrid model this year. The International Liver Conference set for June, for example, is offering onsite and online registration options, and each features slightly different inclusions. Two key things that stood out here are the fact that virtual attendees will have the opportunity to interact with other delegates, and their online hub will feature elements such as gamification. These are important tactics to consider when it comes to keeping virtual audiences engaged, while also ensuring they don’t feel as though they are an afterthought.

Both ENDO 2022 and the ESMO Congress, which attract attendees in their thousands, are adopting a similar strategy, with the latter offering an in-person element called LIVE Plus, along with a virtual component for those who would prefer to tune in from afar.

There are a number of benefits associated with this approach. It enables a congress to reach a wider audience, as all stakeholders can access the event regardless of factors such as their concerns around COVID-19 health and safety, or their location. It also eliminates the need for all audience members to physically travel to an event, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of both the individual and the congress.

Honing in on the power of the in-person congress

On the other hand, a number of organisations are choosing to host completely in-person congresses. We’re seeing this is due to two key factors: there’s nothing quite like bringing people together physically for shared experiences, and demonstrating ROI in the space is a little more seamless – it allows organisers to return to a model that they know is effective.

The Digital Health World Congress, for example, will be held at The Great Hall in London and is open to 200 delegates only. This reflects a trend the SWM Partners team has seen emerging of late. Based on conversations we’re having with clients, some are now opting to have fewer team members attend congresses physically. However, these attendees then host lunch and learn sessions with their colleagues on their return, where they share takeaways from the in-person experience. This ensures everyone gains insight into the event, even if it doesn’t include a virtual element that they can tune into from afar.

BioTechX, which includes the BioData World Congress is taking another route – their November event will be completely in-person, however they are hosting webinars featuring leaders from companies such as Genentech and GSK in the lead up to the main congress.

Maximising the congress experience through ancillary meetings

Joining a congress as an attendee, either physically or virtually, can be a great source of information, education and networking. It’s also not often that professionals with the same expertise and interests come together on this scale.

Congresses therefore present a powerful opportunity for healthcare companies to host meetings and workshops which occur outside of the main event, where they share details of their latest research, clinical trials, and developments in medicine.

Most congress organisers welcome this approach, so long as these events occur outside of the congress’s main hours, and a request and approval process tend to be the norm. As they are smaller in scale, those who might opt to join the congress virtually (or who avoid this due to there not being a virtual option) may decide to physically attend the ancillary meeting. We would, however, recommend that these feature a virtual element too, to ensure information is shared with stakeholders, irrespective of where they are.

Congresses play an important role in the healthcare industry, and we’re seeing a number of formats and approaches take shape as we emerge from the pandemic. As with every event, our key recommendation is to gain an in-depth understanding of what it is that your target audience seeks, and design your congress, congress attendance, and/or any ancillary meetings around this.

SWM Partners has more than 25 years’ experience designing, producing and managing healthcare meetings and events.

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