The American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS) – an organization whose mission is to advance hip and knee patient care through education, advocacy, and research – successfully implemented its first-ever hybrid meeting in November of 2020. In a typical year, the Annual Meeting draws over 4,000 in-person attendees, so to safely host an in-person event component – in the middle of a pandemic – the AAHKS event team needed to rethink its approach to their Annual Meeting format.
The hybrid AAHKS Annual Meeting addressed a broad array of scientific topics through industry symposiums, general sessions, a Q&A with experts, an e-poster exhibition, and an exhibit hall. Both in-person and virtual options were offered in order to reach its two different audiences. In-person events were live-streamed online on a platform that enabled the virtual audience to engage with the in-person audience through the chat function and live Q&A.
Throughout the planning process of the in-person component, the AAHKS event team ensured they fully understood the national, state, and local guidelines, the capabilities and restrictions of the host city, as well as any limitations and guidelines set in place by their partners and vendors. The guidelines were ever-changing and it was vital for the team to stay informed from start to finish. The AAHKS team leveraged the local convention and visitors bureau, worked closely with their hotel contact, and continually referred to CDC protocols for guidance.
Another key to success was the synergy and collaboration between AAHKS and its event partners, which began early on in the planning process. The AAHKS event team worked with the hotel to integrate safety plans and protocols into one cohesive playbook that defined the expectations, standards, and metrics/indicators for both parties. The team also met regularly with event partners to share information, including feedback and questions they were fielding from attendees, as well as how in-person registration numbers were tracking. As group gathering guidelines and safety protocols constantly evolved day-by-day, meeting regularly was critical to design a safe in-person event and to spark ideas for ways to engage with virtual attendees.
The AAHKS event team identified all of the documents that required updates to execute the health and safety plan that was created. This included pre-event attendee and sponsor communications, meeting space considerations, health protocols, table and seating guidelines, registration process, meal preparation and functions, staff guidelines, virtual attendance lists, and post-event communications. They then determined the additional event elements needed to host a safe and engaging event and outlined the costs and budget implications. This included plastic safety barriers at registration, additional signage dedicated to health and safety measures, onsite health and safety consultants, personal protective equipment (PPE) for attendees, and additional security to ensure all attendees were following the guidelines. These new costs would be significant to the overall attendee experience, and adding them into the budget early on helped to manage costs throughout the planning process.
The AAHKS team reviewed the safety plan and added elements with the hotel to decide how they could execute the various aspects of the event, collaboratively. This helped determine what resources were already available and what partners were already vetted and approved by the hotel. Open communication was the key in keeping all stakeholders aligned and proactive.
Attendee communication was equally important. AAHKS ensured that expectations were thoroughly outlined and safety measures were effectively communicated to attendees prior to coming onsite, via webcasts and other channels, so attendees knew what to expect and how to prepare (i.e., wear a mask, get their temperatures checked, etc.).
Given the realities of 2020, the in-person attendee outcomes were impressive. AAHKS hosted nearly 500 live attendees from 37 states and countries, and 1,000 virtual attendees from 12 countries, and 45 exhibitors. In the post-event survey, 99 percent of respondents agreed that health and safety measures were carried out effectively. When asked why they chose to attend in-person, attendees stated it was ultimately a better learning environment for them.
If your organization is planning to execute a hybrid event this year, be sure to implement the tips below from the AAHKS event team!
PRO TIPS FROM THE TEAM
- Communicate your commitment to proceed with your attendees and partners
- Understand your event partners’ current capabilities
- Be flexible with attendees and exhibitors
- Make the virtual attendee experience engaging
- Document health and safety measures
- Know what your added safety measures will cost
- Be prepared to change plans
- Clearly communicate expectations to attendees
- Engage your event partners early in the planning process
- Communicate with your hotel partner early and often
- Understand the state, county, and/or city restrictions, and how they compare to hotel standards
- Share your vision with your hotel and vendor partners – they will be a great resource for ideas and recommendations
- Survey your attendees in advance to determine their comfort level
- Work with hotel leadership to reduce minimums/attrition