Creating meaningful connections virtually

Event Brief
The Malaysian Society of Paediatric Haematology and Oncology (MASPHO) has been hosting its annual scientific meeting for the past 24 years, where attendance usually hovered around 120 to 150 delegates.

Kuching was originally the venue for the 25th Annual Scientific Meeting, which was supposed to be held in October 2020. However, due to the rising number of cases, as well as the government’s prohibition of organised public gatherings, including face-to face meetings, the organising committee postponed the meeting to 2021.

In 4Q2020, and unsure of when face-to-face meetings can take place again, the Society tasked PCO Conference People to convert the meeting to a fully virtual affair in June 2021.

Ronald Lim, co-founder and event producer at Conference People, said: “We had a short lead time of approximately six months to organise the virtual event. We were confident of pulling this off as we previously organised several online meetings, but this would be our first online medical congress.

“For the task at hand, we had to choose a suitable virtual event platform to meet the requirements of our client, restructure the sponsorship packages, plan the engagement to make the event more interactive and rework the scientific programme to work better in virtual settings.”

Event highlights
The two-day virtual event comprised 31 sessions and attracted 360 registered attendees, five international speakers, 12 national speakers and nine corporate sponsors.

Topics covered the latest advances in Myelodysplastic syndromes, Juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia – which is a rare form of blood cancer – and inherited bone marrow failure syndromes in children.

The virtual platform provided doctors, nurses, health alliances and medical students a platform to share and exchange knowledge, as well as learn from international experts about the treatment options for these rare diseases. There were also real-world patient discussions.

“Participants were also encouraged to participate in the sessions by asking questions during the live Q&As and connect with other participants. They were incentivised with points that could later be redeemed for rewards,” Lim added.

Nurses who deal with cancer in children were also provided educational support through a nursing masterclass which dealt with topics related to nursing care and mental wellness.

Holding a virtual meeting had its benefits, and Lim pointed out this “enabled the organiser and sponsors to reduce costs on logistics for international speakers, and significantly reduced the carbon emission that would be associated with an in-person meeting”.

He added that 80 per cent of registered attendees showed up at the virtual meeting, while the rest who were unable to attend due to work commitments accessed the platform later to watch the conversations on-demand.

Coming up with the registration fee price was a main challenge, shared Lim. “In a physical meeting, the fee would cover the cost of F&B and venue. But this is out of the equation in a virtual event.”

In the end, MASPHO decided to give a small reduction on each category of attendees.

Lim added: “At the beginning, registration was poor. It picked up only in the last three weeks prior to the event. We advised our client not to reduce the fee further as it would affect the fees of their future events.”

Another challenge Lim’s team faced was getting sponsors onboard, as most of the sponsors were not very comfortable with a virtual exhibition stand. As such, Conference People focued more on sponsored scientific lectures and a delegate hosting programme where sponsors would pay for the registration fee for some of the delegates.

A third challenge was event execution. Due to the lockdown in Malaysia at the time, only essential businesses were allowed to operate from offices. Unfortunately, conference and event management was not one of the listed essential businesses. Thus, Conference People and the organising committee had to execute the virtual event from their homes.

To ensure the event ran successfully, Conference People sent out tutorial videos to the speakers beforehand. Lim elaborated: “We wanted to ensure they could log on to the platform seamlessly and “look great” during their sessions. Two dedicated technical support staff were assigned to help participants who had issues navigating the event platform or attending the sessions.

Recalling the event, Lim shared: “Trust and communication are very crucial in making any event a success. There were small technical hiccups along the way, and these will be learning lessons for us in holding future virtual events.”

Event MASPHO 25th Annual Scientific Meeting 2021
Organiser Malaysian Society of Paediatric Haematology and Oncology
Date June 26 & 27, 2021
Attendance 360