Kenes Group ranks among the world’s leading Professional Conference Organisers (PCOs). They bring their clients the confidence that comes from hosting over 3,800 conferences around the globe, for over 160,000 participants a year. Founded in Tel Aviv in 1965, and headquartered in Geneva, the company is the only global PCO dedicated to medical and scientific events. The company boasts a team of over 350 professionals, in 19 locations on four continents, and more than 100 long term clients.

The 2nd AAT-AD/PD Focus Meeting 2020 took place in April and for the first time was held as an entirely virtual event. Over 1,140 healthcare professionals from 56 countries attended the meeting during the four days of the streaming.

The meeting was scheduled to take place in Vienna, Austria. Yet, with mass lockdowns around the world amid a global pandemic, it was clear that the physical meeting would be called off. However, the PCO, together with the scientific committee, reacted quickly with a creative solution for an entirely virtual meeting.

Converting a meeting under three weeks into a complete virtual experience was possible due to the flexibility of the IT team at the company. Working around the clock, the team assisted personally 250 speakers to pre-record their lectures. Fourteen forums and Meet the Professor sessions were live-streamed during the event, adding new content to the custom platform daily.

“Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. The science of finding solutions for patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases has always been our DNA. Even in difficult times, the science remains our priority. Exchanging data and sharing novel insights must not wait, and that’s why we were exhilarated when our team suggested converting a meeting for over 1,000 participants into an online experience. In this way our community could continue their work safely and responsibly,” says Ori Lahav, VP Clients & Operations at Kenes Group.

“We are in this situation together, no matter where we are in the world. Once we announced going entirely virtual, we received very positive feedback, including continued registrations and new supporters. That was truly inspiring for all of us.”

The first AAT-AD/PD Focus Meeting 2018 was held in Torino, Italy, with 1,337 participants. The event is focused on showcasing the latest breakthroughs in treatment, translational R&D, early diagnosis, drug development, and clinical trials in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other related neurological disorders.

“Even in difficult times, the science remains our priority”

The biggest challenge turned out to be entirely unexpected. The goal for this event was to keep the scientific program, as much as possible, as it was planned for the live event.

“That meant that we had to pre-record a few hundred speakers. What we wanted to do was to automate the process with easy and intuitive instructions and a simple click on a link. However, our team quickly realised that many speakers did not feel comfortable with the technology, no matter how simplified it was. That required us to quickly change tactics and make available our IT team to mentor, support, and record 250 sessions around the clock,” says Ori Lahav.

What happened to the economy for the associations moving from IRL meeting to virtual?

“The key to turn a live event into a virtual experience is the timing. It depends on when the decision is made to secure as many of the already registered delegates as possible. Also, while maintaining support from companies.

“We expected about 1,800 delegates to attend the event onsite. Once we decided to go entirely virtual, we did expect cancellations, and we got some. That was genuinely understandable. To our surprise, we kept on receiving new registrations too. In total, we received about 200 new delegate registrations in the two weeks leading to the event. We even received a few comments that they would not be able to attend if it was taking place in Vienna, Austria and that this option suited them better.”

Is this a start of new thinking for the associations concerning more virtual meetings in the future?

“I believe there will be more focus on hybrid events in the future.”

A new vision?

“I am not sure if the vision is truly new. We have been offering blended learning for a while. What it entails is starting the education before the event, continuing with a hands-on or similar component during the live meeting, and completing the education on the specific topic/technique/etcetera after the conference. I do believe that the future will hold a combination of physical and virtual experiences similar to that.

“In the short run, we are working closely with our partners and suppliers, and all of us are trying to be flexible and adaptive to the situation. There is a Force Majeure in most countries right now, so everyone understands the situation, and we all try to come out of it as well as possible. In the long run, we do expect regular business to return, and maintaining partnerships is of the utmost importance.

“We are doing what is needed to keep all our talents onboard at this tough time. In countries where the local government offers support, we are applying for it. And of course, we follow the rules in each country, so our teams work from home, like everyone else. That has not been an issue as we can work from any place, anytime, as events require that of us constantly.”

Are you planning to go ahead with the planning of your events for 2021?

“Absolutely. Full-on.”