Virtual Meetings

Hosting and Executing a Virtual Conference: Lessons Learned from IDWeek™2020

Dana Johnson
November 24, 2020

IDWeek™ 2020 was the first completely virtual event I have ever planned. Over five days, the event welcomed over 12,000 attendees, well exceeding the 8,000 expected. The program boasted 24-hours of COVID-19 coverage beginning on Oct. 21 and wrapped up 156 scientific sessions on Sunday, Oct. 25. Over 1,900 abstracts were available for review and discussion. Attendees have access to all the programming and the opportunity to connect with sixty-five supporting exhibitors hosting thirty-two additional affiliated sessions for twelve months!

Lesson 1 – A High Volume of New Questions

In my role at The Infectious Diseases Society of America I work primarily with the exhibiting partners on everything from their booth, to their events, including their advertising. I was overwhelmed by the number of questions I received throughout the planning process. From July when we announced our virtual conversion thorough every step of the process into late October. Planners should know there is very little possibility of planning the answers to these questions in advance, because each partner company seemed to have different questions and unique priorities to determine the level of their involvement in the virtual event and promotional opportunities in this new landscape. A successful planner will block time each day to gather, seek answers from vendors, and respond to the volume of questions in a timely fashion. Asking vendors to set aside time each day to do this is another suggestion. I often struggled, waiting days and sometimes weeks, for answers from the vendors to respond to the exhibiting partners.

Lesson 2 – Keep Marketing Going and Do Not Close Registration

I also write and plan the marketing messages IDWeek™ sends to the members of the five partners societies and past meeting participants. We heard from other medical meetings that registrations typically keep coming in by great numbers in the last two weeks leading up to the event. We still maintained an early registration deadline and discount. However, we did find this to be true and well exceeded our expected attendee registration numbers after our deadline that was set two weeks before the event was scheduled to begin. We kept registration open during the event. Our program will live on and attendees can still register for on-demand access.

Lesson 3 – Supporting the Live Event

Our team created a help desk inside the sessions and exhibits platform, a chat tool on the event website, and phone support during the live event. IDWeek™ sent daily email communications to the attendees with the link, email, and password to access the virtual event. Plus, detailed information on how to get support from our help desk, chat, or telephone team. We communicated internally using Teams to answer questions and solve problems in real time. A small number of the meetings and education team was in the office working together, but most of us remained remote working from home. The survey results are not in yet, but from an event management perspective, this plan seemed to work very well to rapidly support the attendees during the live event.

Planners should make time to prioritize answering questions, create an aggressive marketing plan, keep registration open throughout your virtual event, and develop an attendee focused support plan to succeed!

Dana serves as the Senior Manager, Convention Operations and Meetings at the Infectious Diseases Society of America.  She has been a part of the planning team for IDWeek™ since the event’s inception in 2012. Her main strength is account and relationship management to generate mutually beneficial partnerships and creative solutions to meet goals.