It was just about two months ago when we learned that due to the situation surrounding Covid-19, the European Congress of Radiology (ECR), the second largest radiological meeting in the world, would not be canceled but would be held as a virtual congress instead.

While it has become the new normal for many business meetings to be held online, the idea of having an entire medical exhibition online raised many questions. How would it work? What should the exhibitors do? How would visitors engage with the booths? Could people make important contacts? How could the exhibitors showcase their equipment or technology?

Initially, we had thousand more questions. However, not only were all our questions answered, but exploring the virtual journey of ECR 2020 was a new and exciting digital experience.

ECR 2020 “Preparation Phase”

ECR organized its virtual congress with the help of a digital congress platform called expo-ip, which offered a digital solution that enables users to design and host large events online. With the help of this platform, we could also set up our ScanDiags virtual booth nicely. To begin the process, we chose a chat tool from several options provided and set up a team login for that selected tool. The tool would be used to communicate directly with our booth visitors and allow us to communicate with them in real time so that we could proactively start a conversation. The ScanDiags team members chose tawk.to to perform this function. The tawk.to dashboard shows information about the visitor, including who they are, from what country they’re accessing the conference, when and how many times they visit your booth, as well as how long they stayed. In the case that our virtual onsite contact person had to step away from the booth for a time, tawk.to functioned as a contact form. That way, we were sure to not miss any important online contact initiation from visitors to our booth.

ECR allowed the exhibitors like us to set up individual webinars over as well. The webinars were accessible to all ECR congress attendees and allowed other people who were not participating at ECR to also join the live sessions with the exhibitors. In addition, the Zoom platform offered the host both a Q&A and a chat feature, and both features could be used during the webinar.

Finally, everything was set up and ready to go for our virtual experience!

ECR 2020 “D-Day!”

On the first day, it just felt odd, as we were “theoretically” present at the congress but in practice we were sitting at a meeting room and waiting to see and chat with the live visitors. We quickly got used to it, however. It was a good feeling to be able to engage with the real live visitors visiting our booth, and it was even better if the visitors initiated the conversation over the live chat.

We also experienced that at this congress, people visited our booth around the clock, depending on where they were located. For a company with just one physical office, it can be really challenging to offer 24/7 online services to visitors during the virtual congress.

The visitors of the ECR congress also had a chance to visit the live booths on the weekend. However, unlike the in-person congress, the live booth was quiet during those weekend days.

Key Learning from Virtual Congress ECR 2020

Conducting the congress virtually certainly reduced the time and financial commitments required to attend the ECR Congress and was the best option to have in the current Covid-19 emergency situation.  However, the virtual congress cannot replace and did not have the same impact as the real face-to-face congress. At a virtual congress, both exhibitors and visitors benefit most when they have the same level of knowledge about the virtual platform and its tools. Attendees need to feel comfortable in navigating the online platform and using the digital features to communicate (for instance, the live chatting tool).

Here are some key things we learned after participating at the virtual congress ECR 2020:

  • Set up a simple but visually appealing virtual booth and ensure all the click functions that you have set up are working well.
    According to an article in Time online magazine, people now generally lose concentration just after eight seconds. Imagine how short a time you have to capture the attention of your booth’s visitors. You need to compete with many things in your visitor’s minds, from getting through the day’s sessions to finding the right booth and halls or answering work emails. So, you need to have a nice, simple, clear and structured booth that will be visually pleasing without being overwhelming and offer some basic items for visitors to engage with. You need to ensure that all the click functions you have set up are working well; otherwise, your visitors will just get frustrated. Having a proper set-up to your virtual booth can contribute to a positive and memorable virtual experience for your visitors, which could then lead to an engagement over the communication tool and even turn them into new prospective clients.

  • Choose a communication tool which allows visitors to your booth to have a direct call or video call with you.
    Some visitors would prefer to talk with a human instead of using the chat function or leaving a message. Ensure you choose a communication tool which enables you to offer a variety of communication channels to your visitors.

  • Promote your booth and your virtual congress program.
    It is critical to create buzz to ensure the target audience stops by your booth. One cost-effective way of generating interest and getting attendees to visit your booth is by using the social media campaigns. In our case, we found out that LinkedIn and Twitter were the best platforms to promote our attendance at the virtual congress. Don’t forget to also inform your networks by email about the congress. For their convenient, you might want to provide them with the direct link to the congress and your booth. You may need to send them the congress agenda in advance and let them know why they should not miss out the chance to meet you at the virtual congress.

  • Provide a webinar or two.
    Having webinars during the congress will allow you to reach out the people who are not participating at the congress but might be interested on the topic you will be speaking about at the webinar. Webinars also give congress registrants the freedom to return to the webinar recordings at their own convenience until the virtual event’s closing date.

  • Stay online as long as you can and be prepared.
    It is important to treat a virtual conference as you would an in-person conference with respect to your calendar and task load. Unlike at an in-person congress, you cannot limit the time for visiting your booth virtually. Your visitors might be visiting your booth while you are sleeping or try to call you in the middle of the night. If you have a big team, you may want to define who is taking what working shift to be online, so your company will not miss any chat initiation from your online visitors. For a small team, you might want to ensure that a contact form is at least available if no one from your company is online at any particular time.
  • Visit other exhibitors and invite them to visit your booth.
    You may want to visit other exhibitors, just to see what they are doing and how they are doing it. You might also find interesting exhibitors where you think that both products could complement each other. If you think there may be a future partnership, don’t hesitate to ask them to visit and chat with you at your booth!
Author: Nia Ammann