The Texas Dermatological Society (TDS) is getting ready to roll out the red carpet—Texas-style—for their 2021 Annual Fall Meeting.
In preparation for this event, we sat down with Laura Madole, executive director at the TDS, to talk about the upcoming 2021 Annual Fall Meeting to be held virtually on September 24–25, 2021. In the past, the in-person TDS event welcomed almost 400 attendees to their annual spring and fall meetings. This time, TDS looks forward to hosting hundreds in a virtual setting.
Despite the changes prompted by COVID-19, which forced TDS to cancel their spring 2020 event, Laura is confident that attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors will enjoy the unique features of this virtual meeting.
“We were a little nervous,” admits Laura, concerning their switch to virtual meetings. “So while we hope we can open doors in the spring of 2022, the virtual event has been the next-best option.” In fact, the fall 2020 and spring 2021 TDS events attracted almost 500 attendees.
The unexpected benefits of hosting a virtual event focus mainly on the accessibility of the event. “It opened up opportunities for us to connect with members living in rural areas or other members who are residents at Texas Tech, for example, who can’t easily get to these events,” she says.
Experience a Unique, Interactive Virtual Event
TDS is using a company called vFairs, which invites attendees to visit customizable virtual exhibit halls, rooms, and vendor booths. Attendees can reach out directly to exhibitors and sponsors via video chat or direct text messaging. Plus, all of the attendees are listed, so face-to-face chat is easy.
Laura says that many of these attendees have known each other for years; it’s a fun and fantastic way to earn CME credits. But if this is a member’s first time attending the event, she has some tips for a successful virtual experience.
“I recommend just going in and looking around within the platform: click around and get familiar with the layout. There’s an auditorium, a virtual lobby, a lounge, and several other rooms. I’d definitely utilize the chat feature at a meeting, so it feels like you’re surrounded by your friends and colleagues. It’s more fun when people can interact on the platform.”
The virtual element definitely encourages participation among residents who often have difficulty attending in-person events. Laura says that TDS usually hosts around seven podium presenters for the resident competition. But with virtual, they are delighted to offer 19 podium presenters this fall.
Take Exhibitor Information with You
This is not a typical Zoom meeting. The vFairs platform provides a hotel lobby feel that engulfs attendees in a rich, virtual world filled with uniquely designed exhibits and booths. Guests can virtually stroll amid custom-designed booths, or they can move directly to a booth of their choice from a directory.
“While we enjoy meeting people face to face at events like this, virtually connecting with people who are genuinely interested in learning more about our technology is a fantastic opportunity,” says Rachel Reeg, senior sales director at PathologyWatch. “At in-person events, you compete with high-volume activity that can be distracting, and people often limit the time they spend at your booth. With the virtual briefcase, we can provide valuable information through video, downloadable case studies, ebooks, product information, and other resources that guests can look through when it’s convenient for them and reach out if they want to know more.”
After the conference, attendees will receive all of the information they saved in their virtual briefcase via email. This is a great feature for attendees to keep track of exhibitor information without the risk of losing papers or accidentally leaving them behind. Since the materials are digital, exhibitors can promote products and services through expanded forms of media; a feature that isn’t possible at in-person events.
Host a Social Scene, Just on a Screen
For Laura, the conference is an ideal opportunity to interact with members. “There are many components of my job with the TDS. There are meetings, but there are also membership duties. There’s a financial side and boardwork, and grants, and grant-writing,” she says. “With all of those duties, it’s always a good refresher to be surrounded by our members and make personal connections. That interaction reminds me why I do the job that I do. I love it. I do it for my members, and I hope these meetings are a benefit to them.”
The event offers attendees required CME credits as well as the one-hour ethics credit required for those practicing in Texas. But the platform also hosts a background gamification. A visit to the leaderboard shows attendees how to accumulate points from participating in sessions, visiting exhibit booths, and more.
“For those who are present, and based on the leaderboard points, I will be doing raffles throughout the conference,” says Laura, who promises some amazing prizes for the winners.
Although hosting virtual events may be a temporary condition for TDS, Laura is partial to the idea of maintaining a virtual component to future events. “I would love to offer a virtual component to our events because it’s a member benefit,” she says. “Members being able to attend from anywhere in Texas if they can’t attend a physical event is huge.”
She believes that incorporating virtual sessions or activities in conjunction with in-person events is a great offering for members. But the upcoming fall event is the main focus, and it’s shaping up to be “virtually” one of the most engaging, must-attend dermatology events of the season.
For registration and event information, click here.