Biggest trends in congresses in 2021 according to PCO Colloquium

After more than a year of organizing virtual and hybrid events, PCO Colloqium gives us its feedback on the organization of these types of congresses, as well as the key figures resulting from the surveys they have conducted. Interview with Elvire De Chalus, Director of Colloquium.

1) What is Colloquium and how did you experience the year 2020?  

Colloquium is one of the historical PCOs in the French market. For more than 60 years, we have been working with numerous learned societies and professional associations, whether for the organization of major congresses or for more specialized digital projects. 

In many respects, the year 2020 has been extremely rewarding as it has allowed us to innovate with our clients at high speed and accelerate the digital transition of their congresses. For example, we created Viewr, our own broadcasting platform for virtual events.  In the end, our activity never stopped, and we set up a dozen digital congresses that welcomed nearly 15,000 participants. Today, all of this provides us with a solid base of feedback and figures that will help us make the transition to hybrid congresses.

2) What trends emerge from this data?

The first thing we learned from the surveys we conducted* is that, while participants are pleased with the return of in-person conferences, a large majority of them hope to be able to continue to take advantage of a digital version (47% expect a hybrid conference and 13% a 100% virtual conference). 90% of the hybrid supporters are in favour of access to on-demand content and 64% of them hope that this formula will allow them to train a larger number of people. As for the supporters of 100% virtual, the criteria of saving time (65%) and money (50%) prevail.

In fact, if we talk money, the congresses that had a virtual edition (excluding those that were penalized by cancellation fees) managed to maintain 70% to 80% of their results. The prerequisite to this is of course that registration to a congress, even a virtual one, must be paid for. Our clients have generally chosen to apply a virtual registration rate of 75% of the in-person rate and their congresses have maintained registration levels between 50% and 70%. Sponsor support also helped associations get through the difficult 2020 milestone. And finally, the associations that won were those that maintained a paid virtual event in a period when the physical event was not possible.

On another note, we looked at the consumption of video content during and after virtual congresses**. First and foremost, it is important to keep in mind that between 35% and 55% of the participants are only connected to the congress for one day. The rest of their "consumption" is done in replay. On average, a little less than half of the participants watch replay sessions (and 6% of them only watch replay). The profile of live and replayed content is quite different.  For example, 90% of the official sessions are watched live. The preferred content for replays are formats that are very much oriented towards daily practices, such as workshops, reports or recommendations, of which one third of the viewing is done in replay. Another interesting point is that a quarter of the industry symposiums are viewed on replay

A rather counter-intuitive element, however, is the share of foreign participants. For congresses that generally gather between 20% and 30% of foreign attendees in a physical format, the figure is between 5% and 10% in a 100% digital format. We thought that the virtual format would allow more foreigners to access the content, but this was not the case. 

These figures are an interesting insight, especially when it comes to making decisions for the implementation of hybrid congresses, which are of course the main issue for this year in 2021. At first sight, it would be tempting to propose a retransmission of the plenary rooms with the intention of making the most prestigious content of the congress available to as many people as possible. However, the expectation in terms of on-demand consumption is clearly elsewhere.

The same goes for sponsors! Of course, they will have missed the physical meeting, but are they ready to give up the replay consultations that often allow their content to be more widely distributed? 

3) How has communication evolved? What types of communication are put in place for a hybrid or virtual event? 

The communication of the congresses has evolved a lot during the last year. Where the exercise was rather unchanging before the Covid-19 crisis, more spontaneous and therefore ultimately more communicative operations have emerged. Our clients played the game to produce videos but also to propose a more editorial reading of their program by selecting, commenting, and enhancing certain sessions. For example, we have chosen to group sessions by theme to offer content to physicians in subspecialties who might not have come to the conference in person. This exercise of bias is rather new and allowed us to represent events that were in danger of losing their personality by going digital. And let's not forget that if we recommend to our clients not to make their digital congresses free... well it is important to boost registrations as well as connections until the last minute and even after the congress.

4) One of the most important aspects in the organization of a congress is sponsorship, how do you approach it in a hybrid or virtual congress context?

This question is essential! It is crucial for associations and the subject on which there is still the most work and the most uncertainty. Hybrid formats are popular with the public, but they are expensive to produce and we believe that this will not be possible without the full support of sponsors. The congress sponsorship offer has not finished its mutation. The digital component cannot be reduced to a digital stand (which sponsors no longer want). We were particularly attentive to this point when we created our video content platform Viewr. We worked on the best way to make sponsors' videos visible, on the integration of digital advertising but also and on data collection. Today we are working on marketing hybrid events by proposing an approach by message and by audience

* Satisfaction questionnaires sent to participants of 8 virtual congresses held between September 2020 and March 2021 (1,079 respondents)

** Study carried out on the basis of attendance figures for virtual congresses organized by Colloquium