Hybrid meetings typically operate in silos. Face-to-face attendees discuss topics in session rooms, while virtual attendees connect in online chat forums. Sure, there might be opportunities for those at-home viewers to submit questions, but the two worlds stay fairly separate. At its 2017 Annual Meeting at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Nov. 10–14, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) debuted a new virtual-meeting ambassador program to create a stronger connection between the different environments.
“We’ve tagged a handful of physicians who will go around the meeting to capture photos and videos of content they find interesting to share with the online audience,” Melanie Rafaty, CMP, DES*, AAO’s director of scientific meetings, said in an interview two weeks before the program. “It’s a way of leveraging their aha moments to help virtual attendees get a better sense of what’s happening in the on-site environment.”
A team of seven ambassadors will act as the “eyes and ears” for remote attendees. When Rafaty wanted to find the best candidates for the program, she turned to AAO’s communications department with a simple question: Who are the most active people in our community? “They selected the most engaged members on social media — the ones who are regularly participating in our online conversations,” Rafaty said. “Since they understand what content resonates with our audience, we think they’ll be able to identify the best elements of the meeting for their peers.”
We want to be able to offer something to people who cannot travel for the meeting.
There’s a lot of them. In 2016, more than 3,000 ophthalmology professionals from 110 countries registered for the online experience. Rafaty anticipated those numbers to grow this year. “We want to be able to offer something to people who cannot travel for the meeting,” she said. “Statistics show that our virtual attendees have a good chance of converting to face-to-face attendees in the future.”
Rafaty aimed to avoid offering too much guidance for the ambassadors, opting instead for authenticity. “We want attendees to see it from their peers’ perspectives, and we didn’t want to steer the ambassadors with too much direction on what to do or what to post,” Rafaty said. “We told them that we would like a minimum of two posts per day, but there weren’t any other rules. I’m excited to see how the program performs. If the ambassadors are as active as they usually are on social media, I think this can be a unique way to give attendees at home a better idea of what they’re missing.”
*Melanie Rafaty earned her DES certification through a generous scholarship program sponsored by Meetings + Conventions Calgary.