European Conference of Family Doctors - DEGAM Annual Congress 2020
The WONCA Europe conference is the largest annual conference for general practitioners and family doctors in Europe. This year it was to take place in Berlin, Germany. After the spring COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was moved from the June date to 16-19 December 2020. However, due to the current situation around the COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions across Europe, it was decided in the autumn to hold a virtual conference.
Despite our previous experience with organizing virtual conferences, this conference was a great challenge for us, mainly due to its scope. We had two months to prepare the virtual conference, during which it was necessary to connect both the clinical environment and private general practitioners with the platform for the virtual conference. The assignment was clear – 220 lecturers in live broadcasts, 30 live workshops, poster discussions, an extensive virtual library, an exhibition, WONCA Village, the opening and closing of the conference. Until the last moment, it was not certain how many participants we could expect. There was great interest from the participants, especially in online workshops.
We proposed a solution for the client, where the conference ran on a platform that was basically made-to-measure. This platform offered all the functions needed for organizing a virtual conference. For the organization of live workshops, we decided to use the CISCO Webex platform which, through a relatively large range of functionalities, enabled the necessary interaction during live workshops.
In order to gain the interest of participants despite moving the conference to the virtual environment, we used an extensive marketing strategy through a mailing campaign on a weekly basis, information on social media and the conference website.
We tried to make the conference as if it really took place live from Berlin, so we prepared the complete opening ceremony. We used a virtual studio in Cubex to pre-shoot part of it. In the background, the sights of Berlin – the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag dome, etc. – were post-produced. This gave more authenticity to the whole ceremony.
The virtual conference lasted four days, the same as if it had been held in the standard way. In addition to the opening and closing ceremony, an online press conference with journalists from all over Europe was held during the conference.
The programme for participants was packed. In the mornings on the second and third day, 5 parallel workshops took place, a total of 30 on both days. All 4 days, registered participants could choose from 5 plenary lessons, 34 live parallel sections, use the chat option or visit a virtual exhibition with WONCA Village.
The conference was organized by a large team consisting of a project manager, several technical coordinators, a programme coordinator, an exhibition coordinator, registration coordinators and many other persons providing further services such as hot line; to have replacements ready was also necessary for the case a team member fell ill or had to go to quarantine.
1,560 participants from 67 countries registered at the WONCA Europe 2020 / DEGAM Annual Congress virtual conference. The countries with largest representation were Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.
After the conference, a virtual library was available to all registered participants, which contained 783 presentations, as well as a recording of the entire four-day conference.