In late October 2020, as co-chairs of the MSS section, we started a series of one-hour Zoom calls, focused on a topic of interest that was posted by our MSS Section members in our listserv. We titled this series “Casual Conversations” and have held one nearly every month since. The need to bring our community together to continue to share experiences seems to be a trend that will last well beyond the time of this pandemic. Attendance has ranged from an intimate 10–15 attendees to as many as 88. Our most popular topics have included the new ACCME standards for integrity and independence in accredited continuing education, ABMS and the various boards, and the transitions from live in-person meetings to virtual/hybrid meetings.
More recently, the member section sent out a survey to our more than 300 members regarding formats for in-person/hybrid meetings. The results show we are still very much in a transition period with no single format winning out over the others. While some have said that hybrid meetings will become standard in the future, we have seen that some associations are moving forward with fully in-person meetings without any virtual components, while some do not plan on having in-person meetings until 2022.
For those who are planning hybrid meetings, there has been discussion about planning the meeting in a way so it can easily be converted to an all-virtual meeting. This includes knowing upfront what sessions will be removed from the program in a virtual format, planning concurrent sessions to accommodate registrants on both coasts, and establishing reimbursement policies that are flexible and make it easy to transfer registrants from the live meeting to the virtual meeting. The idea is to put yourself in a position that, if you must, you can easily convert your meeting to all-virtual with minimum effort.
Below are some lessons learned that we want to share with the broader community:
Factors That Determine Format
- Travel restrictions for faculty, attendees and exhibitors
- COVID infection and vaccination rates in local area
- Attendance and metrics from a previous virtual conference
- Zoom fatigue
- Venue requirements
- Costs for virtual/streaming with in-person events
- Even though you can host a meeting, should you?
- Insurance coverage (or lack of insurance coverage)
For Consideration With Your Faculty
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- Have policies in place and/or update speaker agreements for:
- Faculty compliance on tasks and repercussions if non-compliant
- Training, creation of short videos, rehearsals for remote participation, collection of mobile phone numbers and confirmation of understanding.
- If you ask faculty to submit pre-recorded videos, experience what the process would be like for them. Is it straightforward and user-friendly?
- The sooner you decide your format, the better you will be with managing faculty anxiety.
By: Lisa F. Cohen, CHCP
In conclusion, the winning strategy in deciding a meeting format is having your organization’s leadership clearly articulate the goals and desired outcomes of the meeting. Then, select your format or formats based on those goals. This may seem like an easy task, but staff must prepare the business rationale for the different models, so a board or leadership body can make an informed decision regarding their goals. This is just as important to having buy-in from leadership
For example, The Society for Vascular Surgery’s leadership determined they wanted to accommodate as many attendees as possible while maintaining a balanced budget. Therefore, for the August 2021 meeting, they selected a hybrid model which included in-person attendance. Sixty percent of their meeting was streamed, and there was remote faculty participation for about 120 of the 400 faculty members (they were brought in for Q&A after we played their pre-recorded videos). We also have continued to see meetings going fully virtual. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation all executed or will be executing fully virtual meetings.
At the end of the day, there is no “right answer” for what you do with your meetings moving forward. You must do what’s best for your organization, members and staff. Our conversations have shown that each organization is different, and its personality is dependent on the culture of its membership, which will sometimes drive the final decisions. As a member section of the Alliance, we have been trying to show the totality of everything that is being done instead of being prescriptive of what you should do. We encourage this community to continue talking and sharing best practices. Together, we will learn and grow.