The 2020 Congress was originally planned to take place in Halifax, Canada, however this 5-day Congress for the World Muscle Society was moved to virtual four months before the agreed delivery dates. Azura Events Ltd as main PCO was supported by the OD&V team to cancel elements of the physical event, including the refunding of 500 delegate fees, and prepare a completely new and a very first virtual event for both PCOs.
Extensive research led to the appointment of an external agency, Kenes Group, to provide the virtual platform and the technical support required to convert 400+ abstracts into E-posters and audio presentations, and collate recorded material for over 14 sessions involving more than 50 speakers. Overall project management and coordination of registrations, speaker communication, sponsor liaison, brand development, congress website, committee liaison, social programme etc. was overseen and delivered in partnership by Azura Events Ltd and OD&V.
The programme format was adapted to best suit a virtual delivery style, resulting in the first-ever WMS ‘Industry Day’ dedicated entirely to sponsored symposia, followed by a condensed 1-day Pre-Congress Teaching course normally delivered across 3 days. Three main congress days concluded with a much anticipated and fully live closing ceremony and prize presentation.
The international nature of the congress was taken into account from the very beginning. Although main presentations were pre-recorded, these were released on the platform at a scheduled BST time followed by moderated live Q&A sessions in the majority of cases. The full content was then made available for on-demand viewing for a period of up to 3 months post-congress, entirely accessible to all registered delegates in every time zone.
The chosen virtual platform had a limit of 3000 users which was predicted to suffice for this event that normally attracts 800-1000 physical attendees, however, registration reached capacity three weeks before virtual congress dates, which came as a pleasant surprise and one of the major learnings of this experience. The platform mirrored the look of a physical congress centre and was fully branded accordingly; attendees appreciated this attention to detail and confirmed this gave them a sense of being part of the congress community, very similar to the usual atmosphere of belonging that the WMS has been known to create for the past 25 years.
Social interaction elements such as Zoom networking rooms, an anniversary quiz, charity challenge, work-out videos, virtual photo booth and a daily raffle were introduced via a ‘Social Hub’ to encourage attendees to get together in the digital environment and, why not, have a bit of fun!
The virtual format has proven to be a very accessible alternative that has generated incredibly positive overall feedback from committees, speakers and presenters, sponsors and attendees alike, allowing for valuable research to be shared and disseminated whilst empowering health professionals around the globe to further advance their scientific endeavours in spite of the pandemic situation. This experience has also demonstrated events large and small can be organised and even delivered completely virtual; the human interaction element was missed however and the hope is that a hybrid format of the annual meeting will be possible in future years, as a blend of accessibility for the larger audience but also face-to-face interaction.
Due to the incredible success of the virtual event in 2020, the organising committee approved for the 2021 congress to be delivered virtually once again. Based on a very similar format, the delegates enjoyed a very engaging programme of presentations, social activities and networking opportunities.