"Exchange does not work well digitally"

Interview with Christine Della Chiara, Congress Manager European Dermatology Forum, Convention Team AG

(Latest news: On January 10, UIA received the message that the EDF Meeting 2022 had to be cancelled at short notice due to a sharp increase in Covid19 case numbers in Switzerland. Only the General Assembly will take place virtually.)

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly subsides, you have decided to host the EDF meeting in 2022 as an in-person event. What sparked the decision for a physical conference instead of an online/hybrid event or postponing the conference to a later date?

The European Dermatology Forum (EDF) is a non-profit professional organisation dedicated to improving the skin health of people in Europe. The annual meeting of the EDF is mainly attended by over 150 delegates including EDF members, corporate members and guests. The fascinating scientific programme and ideal platform for constructive networking make it a highlight for key opinion leaders in dermatovenereology across Europe.

It was the decision of the board of the European Dermatology Forum to hold the EDF meeting in Montreux in January 2022 as an in-person congress, and as the professional congress organisers, we could give this decision our full support. We already cancelled the meeting in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the EDF meeting thrives on personal interactions and networking, we cannot imagine organising it as a virtual congress!

Almost the same number of participants as we had before the COVID-19 pandemic have already registered so far. This shows us that this was the right decision, provided that the crisis does not worsen again. In that case, we would have to respond to the new situation.

Will any significant changes be made to the congress this year?

There will be no significant changes. However, we will take the necessary precautions to safeguard the health and safety of the participants. All participants must observe the Covid Certificate rules and present the necessary documents (Covid Certificate QR code, plus identity card or passport) upon entering the congress in Montreux. We will also respect the distancing and hygiene rules.

Do you offer virtual attendance or other options for those who cannot attend the event in Montreux?

Yes, certainly. We will record all the presentations and release them as on-demand videos in a password-protected section of the EDF website for a few months after the conference. This will give participants who could not travel to Montreux the chance to watch at least the scientific presentations.

Has the EDF ever conducted virtual events? If you compare a virtual event with a live event, how do planning and organisation differ?

In 2021, the general assembly was held digitally. However, the EDF meeting has never been held digitally since 2012. The intensity of organising a congress is actually quite similar for both live and digital variants. Only the focus is placed on different segments depending on how it is implemented, such as:

    • Participant support
    • Audio and visual technology
    • Programme times and duration
    • IT programs
    • Entertainment, gamification and moderation

At a digital congress, great emphasis is placed on the content and the scientific programme – and less on networking aspects. That is because this exchange simply does not work well digitally. There is also much closer collaboration between IT and the audio-visual technology. At a live congress, however, networking is a very central and important factor that is integrated in the programme. This networking platform is exactly what more and more participants again are looking for – direct exchange with colleagues, speakers and company representatives.

The MICE industry has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you think this will change our industry, and what measures can be taken in your opinion?

The pandemic has shown the MICE industry that for many years, many companies had not made any technical or digital progress in some ways. They suddenly had to switch to the digital world, broaden their horizons and face new challenges if they didn’t want to lose business completely. The pandemic has also helped put the MICE industry on a sustainable path. We are able and willing to plan and organise congresses and events much more consciously and sustainably. The entire MICE industry must keep up with the times – digitally and sustainably – and embrace new technologies to remain stable in any future crises.

But we should never forget the people who need live interaction in person. After all, we are all human beings, not digital avatars. I am still unsure whether we will ever move the congress and event industry completely into the three-dimensional digital world. And to be honest, I hope not. This will be our challenge in the future: to find the balance between the digital space and the real world…