By Gerardine Donough-Tan

The Asia Pacific Medical Technology Association (APACMed) annual forum in April was almost postponed to 2021 as COVID-19 spread worldwide. But the association and PCO Chab Events saw the opportunity to transform the hitherto physical gathering in Singapore into an exciting virtual event.

Planning started in June for the new September 24 date. Then in July, the Singapore government said small B2B events of up to 50 participants could resume from August under strict safe management measures (SMMs). APACMed’s Forum became one of two “test” events.

How do you go from physical to virtual and then hybrid event?

Going from physical to digital meant re-designing and converting the format in under three months – from sponsorship packages, agenda and communication channels to technologies used, while still maintaining the superb experience delegates expect.

“We turned challenges into opportunities. With physical events, outstanding leaders sometimes cannot attend due to conflicting business agenda. However, with the virtual format, the APACMed team was able to gather a stellar list of speakers, which resulted in a record attendance of 1,450 people from more than 30 countries,” said Alexis Lhoyer, Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of Chab Events.

But the short lead time exacerbated challenges. The agenda was finalised late in the process, causing delays in content creation, and having to ensure that the technological platform would be accessible in all countries.

Nevertheless, going from fully virtual to hybrid actually added value, Mr Lhoyer said. “Thanks to the help of the Singapore Tourism Board, our Chab Lab branch and local AV partners were able to create an exciting filming environment across two recording studios. This really improved the content quality as well as the experience of online delegates.”

SMM compliance was a prerequisite for staging the physical event. The final count was 50 people comprising the client, presenters, media, audience, technical teams and suppliers. Some 1,450 delegates participated online – more than at previous physical conferences.

What were the key learning points?

Close collaboration and teamwork were essential. Online registration, AV production – new multi-event space 222 Arts Club served as the studio, live streaming and even gamification were among the services provided by various business partners.

To encourage audience engagement, Chab designed a ‘leaderboard’ system where delegates received points for every action they took on the virtual platform; e.g. visiting a booth, sending a message or joining a streaming track. The 25 highest scorers won prizes. Most sponsors were visited by more than 300 participants.

“Online support was also crucial. However reliable your tech platform is, there will be a small number of people unable to connect, whether due to the IT environment or even country regulations. Such issues must be resolved promptly,” added Mr Lhoyer.

Sponsorship was another learning point. In a physical conference, sponsors handle their own booth set-up. “With the digital format, we had to be the creative agency and tech partner to support each brand. Seventeen different designs and experiences, with precise brand guidelines but less so for the digital part. Most companies don’t have guidelines for digital booths yet. So, while we gave advice, this also took up more time than initially anticipated,” Mr Lhoyer said.