medArt basel, an annual five-day conference for the healthcare industry with up to 2000 attendees, moved to a virtual format during the pandemic and needed a platform that could support their program of lectures, seminars and hands-on workshops and still remain interactive for all attendees.
After trying a lecture-only event on a different platform for the first virtual conference, medArt decided they needed a more interactive format to more resemble the in-person events they had before the pandemic. To achieve this, they chose to use Howspace as a platform.
medArt basel is an internal medicine and family doctor conference held at the University Hospital of Basel, Switzerland. Until 2020, the annual five-day conference had been in-person, where 1,000-2,000 people attended a mix of lectures, clinical case seminars, and hands-on workshops.
How did the medArt basel organizers sustain engagement and interaction when they moved the conference fully online? Here’s a look into their journey and what they learned along the way.
“Howspace was the most interactive platform that we could find for medArt basel. I would really recommend using Howspace for keeping the audience engaged during a conference.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, most medical conferences were cancelled, and the medArt basel organizers at first thought they’d have to do the same. Instead, they decided to try a two-day digital conference with only state-of-the art lectures. This digital medArt basel.20 was the pioneer virtual congress in Switzerland, and it was a huge success. In 2021, an in-person or even hybrid conference was still impossible, but the medArt basel organizers wanted to find a more creative online platform with the goal to engage people in a five-day interactive conference.
“The former platform was good, but all people could do was watch lectures. After a full year of COVID where everyone was on Zoom, no one wanted to look at the screen anymore. We needed something more interactive,” says Ceylan Eken, director of medArt basel from 2017-2020.
“The aha moment for us was when we saw the engagement possibilities and how easy it was to use Howspace.”
After searching for different solutions and narrowing down the options, the medArt basel organizers and committee came to the conclusion that Howspace would best fit their needs.
“The aha moment for us was when we saw the engagement possibilities and how easy it was to use Howspace,” says Ceylan. “The flexibility of Howspace was also a big advantage. The number of widgets allowed us to do a lot of different things like answer and ask questions, run quizzes, and keep the participants on the page,” she continues.
Around 1,500 people joined the medArt basel conference hosted on Howspace, while additional people joined from the hospital. The lecturers could see that people were engaged and asking questions. 100-200 people participated in the four afternoon sessions on Thursday and Friday. “The overall engagement was very positive,” Ceylan summarizes.
Since Basel is a city with a strong artistic culture, the organizers wanted to incorporate cultural events as they would during an in-person conference. To keep people interested and engaged, they incorporated online museum tours, sport videos, videos of the classical music recitals, and circus performances. They also had a specific page where people could network, as they would in a face-to-face event.
The networking page on the Howspace medArt basel workspace where participants are invited to reach out to individuals they want to speak to.
The lounge page on the Howspace medArt basel workspace where participants could watch videos and take virtual museum tours.
“From all the tools we have seen, Howspace was the handiest, coolest, and the team was the friendliest,” concludes Ceylan.
Running a fully digital event with many participants and speakers interacting with each other, there was bound to be some hiccups. Fortunately, all technical difficulties occurred within the first 24 hours, and the organizers—together with the hands-on support from the Howspace team—were able to find an alternative solution to keep all participants on the platform interacting, communicating, and participating. We live and we learn—testing all new tools and tool combinations well beforehand is key.
“The Howspace team trained almost a hundred doctors on how to use the platform with a lot of patience, and always with a smile on their face,” says Ceylan.
On the conference welcome page, there was also an instructional video on how to use the Howspace platform.
Video: How do I use the medArt basel Howspace platform?
medArt basel also had an FAQ page and helpdesk available for all five days of the conference, with an email and phone number available.
Conference presenters and participants might have different levels of experience with technology and some people might benefit from support on sharing screens, muting microphones, and typing in the correct chat boxes. medArt basel conducted several trainings but realized even more extensive training could have helped people feel more confident when navigating the online space.
While the medArt basel organizers put together a wildly successful conference, they could have benefited from a more flexible schedule. They learned to have a clear vision of the timeline, taking into account all holidays for the people involved. This is especially important when working with people in different countries.
In the hospital industry, technology advancements and changes are typically slow. But with the pandemic, the industry was forced to take a massive leap forward in terms of digital trends.
“Within a year or two, we achieved what we might normally achieve in 10 years. But then people have missed meeting face to face. The trend that we see coming is a hybrid approach,” explains Ceylan. “We won’t get rid of online options, and things will not go back to only face-to-face. There will always be the possibility to join online. More technology to facilitate hybrid meetings will be needed, as well for the people on-site to join for games and interactions digitally,” she adds.