In 2017, the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) put online more than 475 refresher courses and 1,700 scientific presentations from seven days at McCormick Place in Chicago. It’s “a lot of physical content,” said Janet Cooper, CMP, RSNA’s director of meetings and convention services. RSNA’s hybrid meeting, which started small, has grown thoughtfully, based on results and feedback. While attendees can’t clone themselves to visit concurrent sessions, RSNA has found that transforming the event into a hybrid meeting — offering both in-person and virtual ways to access content from the event — is the next best thing.
RSNA kicked off its virtual meeting in 2011 by offering 20 select sessions from the Annual Meeting; virtual attendees could view presentation slides and talk with other remote participants using chat functionality. That first year, RSNA’s meetings team was wary of content cannibalism — the possibility that in-person attendees would lose interest in the face-to-face experience in favor of virtual. But due to the meeting’s packed schedule, they found that attendees were actually hungry for the ability to access more content virtually, even if they attended the meeting in person. “Every year,” Cooper said, “our board is saying, well, let’s add a little more.”
RSNA 2017 offered 135 sessions online — including plenary sessions and other content that education department felt would be of general interest to most attendees. The main audience? Hybrid attendees. In 2017, approximately 6,000 attendees combined virtual and in-person attendance, compared to 2,000 virtual-only attendees.
“They’re physically there, but then they add on the virtual component, so that they can consume more,” said Marissa Ritter, assistant director of convention operations and registration services. “Maybe they’ll be sitting in one of our lounge areas watching something virtually, because they prefer to sit in a cozy chair [than in the room where the session is taking place], or they watch when they get back to their office, home, or hotel.”
The on-demand aspect of the program is what makes the virtual meeting such a success, according to Ritter. “CME credit is a big driving factor for this,” she said. “We give our virtual attendees two opportunities to get CME — they can watch it live, so as it’s streaming in the room we have doctors from all over the world watching. Or, four hours after it was live, it’s posted online and then we give them the opportunity to get CME credit for watching certain sessions on demand. Maybe 20 percent of the sessions that we do, they can also get CME there.”
Added Cooper: “When we first started this, the virtual meeting ended at the time our Annual Meeting ended. Then the next year, we extended it a week. Then two weeks, then three.” This year, RSNA is testing its longest on-demand period yet, with virtual meeting sessions available through the end of February, more than two months after RSNA 2017 ended. And despite a fee for virtual content, interest continues to grow.
“If you give them the content, they’re willing to pay for it,” Ritter said. “Our physical meeting is free for our members, and we were giving them the virtual meeting for free as well. We’ve incrementally increased that fee for members and non-members to consumer the virtual meeting, and it doesn’t seem to be scaring them away.”
In the future, RSNA is looking for more ways to engage virtual attendees. “We don’t have one chat room for everyone, you can only chat within each session,” Cooper said. “We’re looking into that, and maybe how we can incorporate some of the live activities that are taking place at our meeting and show those through our virtual meeting. That way, attendees can feel part of it, or realize that they want to come in person next year.”
Read more digital-event stories from our CMP Series “Screen Time.”