I have been involved in organising medical conferences for longer than I care to remember!
In my penultimate role at GSK I was involved in launch meetings, roadshows and other conferences relating to GSK hospital products so I was dealing a fair bit with senior hospital medics.
Then, since I set up DeSouza Associates I have worked on numerous medical conferences ranging from just over a hundred delegates to more than 400 delegates attending an international landmark Symposium which also attracted press interest.
A common theme throughout all the medical conferences that we have organised is flexibility, teamwork and getting the job done! We are generally working in a collaborative manner on all our conferences but at the same time having overall responsibility for the success of the event.
We have been involved in the following areas of medical conference management:
Venue finding and confirming the venue and subsequent venue liaison leading up to the conference/event
Setting up a conference website – from using platforms such as Eventbrite to updating and maintaining our client’s own website
Handling registration – again either through one of the many available platforms or via a bespoke client website. Things to think about would include Early Bird rates, cancellation charges/admin fees for those who register and then cancel, Student registration fees and possibly also a reduced fee for Government attendees, being accurate in terms of exactly what is included in the registration fee, for example is the Drinks Reception on the first evening included or is this an additional fee, partner fees for those delegates wishing to bring partners to the non-scientific events/receptions
Handling medical abstract submission – we have been involved in handling abstract submission both manually (when a client did not have a bespoke abstract submission system) and systemised. One has to define the categories for abstract submission (liaison with Scientific Committee) and be clear on an acceptable length for the abstracts, format eg font size, maximum size of attachments etc
Arranging Speaker and Gala Dinners – the key I think is to embrace the country one is in and give both your faculty and delegates alike a flavour of the local food and customs. If not, delegates might as well have remained in their home country!
Speaker liaison – I feel this is quite a skill and commands respect, patient and resilience! From my experience faculty, by the nature of them being experts and therefore invited to speak at the Conference, are exceptionally busy people and sometimes perhaps, dare I say it, a little intolerant of a conference organiser asking lots of questions!! So one has to be tactful and organised and getting on the side of their Admin Assistants has always been a very positive move.
Conference sponsorship – we have numerous contacts in many pharmaceutical and medical companies and have built up some solid relationships with industry personnel in many disease areas.
Delegate liaison – being the main point of contact for all delegates and answering all their queries however large or small
As I’ve already indicated, we are always very mindful of local culture and customs and having had to arrange medical conferences in Brazil, Vietnam, Japan, China and the USA we have needed to call on our skills and empathy in this regard.
For the conferences in Japan (Tokyo) and China (Shanghai) we worked alongside a local PCO (Professional Conference Organiser) for both cultural and language reasons.
With regard to sponsorship, local companies prefer to deal with local people so they were also helpful in this area of the conference management.
For the conferences held in Vietnam and China, we got most of our materials printed locally due to the highly competitive rates which were available for print, from pull-up banners to Programme Books, attendee lists to Medical Posters.
I would suggest that a site inspection trip (not just to view the venue, which can sometimes be predetermined by a co-hosting Medical Institute) is a must, to meet with all the suppliers and other co-organisers from the Organising Committee etc, if at all possible.
This can be undertaken anytime from a year (or longer depending to the time frames) to perhaps just 6 months prior. Even if we are working with a local PCO, the case for a site inspection is very strong
At our last major medical Conference in the US (Washington DC) last year, we were pleasantly surprised as to how well the hotel coped with the special dietary requirements that we had, particularly the requests for gluten-free meals.
We had a couple of very positive comments, one saying that she felt the best taken care of that she has experienced compared to any of the other medical conferences that she has attended. My colleague Kate and I were really proud to have that feedback.