The Intersection

How One Organization Rebooted Its Signature Event

While the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has a membership of more than 31,000 ophthalmologists from around the world, the organization expects to see little more than half that number at its Annual Meeting in New Orleans next month.

That leaves about 15,000 members — and thousands of nonmembers — who are unwilling or unable to attend the conference in person. “A lot of the developing countries have the most need for some of this content,” said Debra Rosencrance, CAE, CMP, AAO’s vice president of meetings and exhibits, “but they do not necessarily have the cash to come to the meeting.”

That’s required AAO to redesign the meeting, adding a simultaneous hybrid conference to complement the face-to-face program, all while supporting the overall goals of the organization. “We’ve been creating more opportunities for interaction at our meeting,” Rosencrance said, “and that extends to the virtual meeting as well. It’s all about trying to connect people so that they can find solutions to their issues.” In addition to post-conference surveys and focus groups, AAO has gleaned input for its conference redesign from physician volunteers, Rosencrance said, using them “as a sounding board.”

AAO’s overarching strategy to promote more interaction at its Annual Meeting involves getting people together in as many ways as possible, both in person and virtually. That type of strategic approach is what Greg Van Dyke, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for PSAV Presentation Services, refers to as creating a “comprehensive lifecycle experience” — as he explains in “Redesigning Your Meeting,” the latest video in The Intersection Series: Where Technology Meets Inspiration, presented by PCMA and PSAV. Van Dyke is joined in the video by John Folks, president of Minding Your Business.

“Are you really thinking about AV strategically,” Van Dyke asks in the video, “and how you provide your meeting attendee [with] an experience from before they leave home, all the way to repurposing your content after the meeting?” Folks adds: “It takes stepping back and looking much more broadly at the situation. Attendees’ expectations have climbed much higher. In order to deliver the value they expect, we’ve really got to start to freshen that experience.”

AAO plans to freshen its Annual Meeting by livestreaming content from in-person sessions, while personalizing the experience for hybrid attendees by holding exclusive virtual-only interviews with thought leaders from the industry — “sort of like the hallway conversations that you miss out on if you are not at our meetings,” Rosencrance said. AAO hopes that the new hybrid meeting not only will draw remote attendees this year — Rosencrance is predicting around 300 – but also will attract more in-person attendees next year. “It is always good to reinvent and rethink about your meeting,” Rosencrance said, “and try to get out ahead of your attendees, because there are a lot of meetings these days, and you start sort of resting on your laurels.”

Sarah Beauchamp

Sarah Beauchamp was formerly assistant editor of Convene.