ACH Research Forum
Adjust an in-person scientific research conference to a virtual conference at less than eight weeks out in the midst of a pandemic. As many associations have experienced as well, the Academy of Communication in Healthcare (ACH) had to make the difficult decision to cancel their in-person conference scheduled for the end of June in Austin, Texas. A lingering challenge remained, should ACH try to convert the cancelled in-person conference to virtual? With less than eight weeks to plan and execute, could ACH provide a valuable educational opportunity to its members and attendees that would offset the loss of an in-person experience?
ACH looked at the budget implications to provide the virtual experience and polled prospective attendees about their desire to attend virtually. Scientific abstracts had already been submitted and reviewed and given the interest by prospective attendees, the ACH Board agreed to move forward with the virtual conference. ACH staff and the conference planning committee recreated a schedule that addressed the timing needs of various time zones while also keeping in mind screen fatigue. Registration rates were adjusted down significantly for the virtual conference to allow for more accessibility and a sponsor was sought to help offset expenses.
The agenda was updated to add timely topics for general sessions that had surfaced through the pandemic and a second round of abstract submissions was opened so that the conference would be able to share the latest healthcare communication research related to COVID-19. ACH staff researched platforms and best practices for virtual conferences and the conference planning committee shared their collective experience and expertise so that the virtual experience could be set up to maximize relationship building, exposure for abstract presenters and educational opportunities during a time when many people are facing varying challenges due to the pandemic.
The virtual conference was a hit!
- Overall attendance increased by 150% compared to the previous in-person conference
- The accessibility of the virtual conference allowed for representation from 21 countries versus four at the previous in-person conference
- The number of presenters nearly doubled, going from 90 at the previous in-person conference to 165 at the virtual conference
As ACH strives to increase inclusivity, ACH was thrilled to be able to include so many more people and perspectives in the conference through the increased accessibility brought by the virtual conference. The sponsor for the conference was very pleased with the results of the offerings provided by the virtual conference sponsorship. Conference evaluation results were very positive calling the virtual conference inspiring, engaging, diverse, and powerful, and there is a clear desire for continued virtual access in the future.