Beat by beat: Covering a medical conference in real-time

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Vascular 2013

It’s 7:00 a.m., and I have two laptops in front of me. Google Chrome is open on both computers, and I write in French on one and English on the other. I’m searching for interesting posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube using the ScribbleLive back end, and integrating all these elements into two live feeds. And soon enough, it’s the end of the afternoon and I get to get home and sleep, only to wake up the following morning and start again. Welcome to my version of Vascular 2013.

Vascular 2013 brought together four different medical organizations and four different scientific meetings under one roof for a series of conferences, networking soirées and overall general discussions of any and everything related to cardiovascular issues.

I was on-site at Montreal’s Palais des Congrès to curate and moderate the French and English live coverage of the conference on behalf of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, the Canadian Diabetes Association/Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism, the Canadian Stroke Network, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Hypertension Canada. The two live events were embedded on the French and English websites of Vascular 2013 and displayed on screens around the venue.

A four-day conference, especially one as massive as Vascular 2013, is the perfect setting to provide real-time updates. Giving timely and regular updates comes naturally, and creates a narrative that builds an audience over time. You could say medicine has a niche audience, but you must acknowledge that the niche is significant—more than 6,000 delegates attended Vascular 2013.

The news releases that followed the event and web traffic analytics provided by ScribbleLive both say the event was a success—but this success was no accident. A combination of good settings and story opportunities, organized workflow and a strategic use of media all lent a hand to this success. That all said, I learned a few lessons along the way. Let me share them with you.

Vascular 2013 embed
The event embedded on the Vascular 2013 website.

Workflow

My hectic work schedule—7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day—was matched by a hectic workflow. Overseeing two different live events in two different languages and populating each with timely and relevant content was a monumental task. Add to it the usual slew of technical things to oversee, such as ensuring the events display properly on-site on the screens, and Vascular 2013 was quite the challenge.

Here are some tips to help out:

  • Well-defined roles. This helps with the management of real-time coverage conferences. I focused on curating content from social to the two live events, but I did not create much original content—because, of course, there was only so much that I understood on the common bariatric surgical procedures. But that was okay—there were many people more qualified to discuss medical jargon and offer insight and analysis into the discussions taking place, while I managed the content and the engagement.
  • Preparation of social content. Four hashtags were used for Vascular 2013, and they were established before the event began. With these, I quickly spotted the users I could trust and who contributed most to the live coverage. I also had a list of six Twitter users to auto-follow. That said, it’s a fine balance to strike between curated social content and original content contributed from the conference floor.
  • Physically asking people to engage with the content. With real-time, sometimes people forget that you can talk to people about it face-to-face. Once I had identified those who could speak with authority on the topic, I let them know about our live coverage and they in turn tuned in and promoted it. Just by doing this, I personally gained eight new Twitter followers.

 

And more importantly

That’s a snapshot of what was trending on Twitter in Canada on Oct. 17. This all enhances brand awareness.

Lessons

While the live coverage was great, I learned a number of lessons that I’ll take with me to my next real-time assignment:

Vascular 2013 content
Creating a multimedia experience unlike any other.
  • Everything starts with preparation. Although I prepared content before the event – including speaker biographies and short descriptions of the conferences – there can never be enough preparation. It’s important to keep quick bits of information at hand, and live coverage is easier to manage if these are prepared before the conference even starts.
  • There are never enough photos. Twice I heard that someone loved the live coverage, but that the only time he stopped to look at the screen was when there was a picture. A great multimedia experience is one that’s rich in pictures and videos as well as real-time updates.
  • Populating two events in two languages can be difficult. Finally, Vascular 2013 was an English event. There was a French and an English event updating in real time, but the conferences were all hosted in English. As a result, all the updates came in English, making things challenging for the Vasculaire 2013 French event. By the end of the weekend, I was running out of ideas for differentiating the two and creating original content in French.

 

Not only do the numbers show that hosting a real-time coverage of the event was a success, they also show that it was worth it to have an event in French and one in English in order to engage and cater to audiences that spoke each language at the event. All told, Vascular 2013 was a success. And thank God for coffee!

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