Case Study

SDRC Annual Conference 2021: The evolution of online events

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In June, the Scottish Dementia Research Consortium (SDRC) once again sought the EICC’s help in putting together an engaging, informative – and virtual – Annual Conference. Hosted on our new platform supported by Events Air and incorporating innovative online event features, the conference was hugely well-received and delighted organisers and attendees alike. Carleen Smith, SDRC Officer for Alzheimer Scotland, talks us through what made it a success.
Since its launch early on in the pandemic, our Make It Edinburgh Live platform has been continually evolving, as technology has improved and our team has learned from experience and feedback from our clients. With technology constantly evolving, and online elements within events becoming more and more attractive to clients, it was time we solidified our offering by partnering up with virtual and hybrid events experts Events Air.

Taking place in June, the Scottish Dementia Research Consortium (SDRC) Annual Conference 2021 was one of the first events to be held on our newly evolved platform. The SDRC is a network of over 700 dementia researchers, policymakers and people living with dementia across Scotland. Typically taking place in April, the Annual Conference brings together experts in their field to commemorate the year’s achievements, present their latest research, and benefit from learning and networking opportunities.

As SDRC Officer, Carleen Smith is responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation, including social media campaigns and the annual report. She also coordinates the SDRC Annual Conference, which for the second year running had to take place virtually. The SDRC’s Annual Conference 2020, due to take place last April, was delayed by the first lockdown, and took place virtually in September through the EICC’s Make It Edinburgh Live platform.

“A bespoke experience”

Nine months on from their previous virtual event, Carleen emphasises that developments in the EICC’s platform made for an even better online event experience. “Last year’s conference was excellent so it was hard to beat,” says Carleen, “but this year’s event really felt like a step up. The platform felt slicker; little things had been tweaked to improve the overall experience. It looked good, it was easy to navigate – people got what they wanted out of the event, but they liked the way in which it was delivered as well.”

“The platform felt slicker; little things had been tweaked to improve the overall experience. People got what they wanted out of the event, but they liked the way in which it was delivered as well.”

“The platform was customised specifically for the SDRC, with our colouring, branding and logo; it felt like a more bespoke experience. That made a huge difference – it helps people engage and feel part of something when there is cohesion in the branding.”

The addition of networking space was another feature that set this year’s conference apart from their previous event. Carleen explains: “Part of the reason why researchers want to go to these events is to network and find collaborators for future projects and research – that’s what they miss most about in-person gatherings. Everyone was really pleased with that feature; it really set this apart from other online events.”

The upgraded platform also offers the opportunity to share hand-outs with delegates and provide correspondence with speakers and exhibitors, all within the platform – making life easier both for participants and organisers.

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A space for learning

Related Feature In March, the Palliative Care Congress 2021 (PCC 2021) saw nearly 600 delegates join the PCC’s first ever virtual conference. Event Organisers Kate Smith and Becki Munro, of MunroSmith Associates, talk through the structure of the event and what made it a success. read next

The structure for this year’s annual conference was largely similar to that of last year’s. “We try to reflect the in-person structure as much as possible,” explains Carleen. “The programme included a plenary session, presentations from researchers and a review of our annual report. Breakout sessions offered attendees the chance to split into smaller groups for learning and discussion, and a chat function to ensure everyone was able to ask questions and get involved.”

“The most common feedback – and the most important in my opinion – was that people learned a lot at the conference.”

The theme of this year’s conference was Dementia Prevention and Brain Health, one of the five key pillars of dementia research. 2020 also marked the launch of Brain Health Scotland, an initiative from Alzheimer Scotland and the Scottish Government, which emphasises the importance of brain health in early life and how risk factors for dementia can be managed. “The launch ties in perfectly with this year's theme,” says Carleen. “Research is so high on people’s agenda at the moment; it was particularly powerful to hear from those early-career researchers who are already making a huge difference with their work.”

Carleen continues: “The most common feedback – and the most important in my opinion – was that people learned a lot at the conference. That’s the ultimate goal: that attendees go away with a good understanding of what’s been happening over the past year and the research that was discussed.”

New platform, same unbeatable experience

The conference was very well-received, with many attendees and participants taking to social media to express their thanks. “The event went really well for everybody,” says Carleen. “The organisers, the committee, the attendees, Alzheimer Scotland – they were all delighted.”

Crucially, Carleen’s experience of organising the event wasn’t affected by the evolution of our platform – the service, support and professionalism of our team remained unbeatable. “The EICC staff were absolutely exceptional,” she elaborates. “They were so helpful, informative and dedicated. It was kind of like painting by numbers, they made everything so easy for me and could not have been more helpful. You get the best of both worlds with the EICC: they’re experts in both event planning and on the technical side, too.”

Looking to the future, Carleen believes that future SDRC conferences will take a hybrid approach, combining the benefits of both in-person and virtual events. “Now that we’ve seen how well it can work,” she says, “it’s very likely to be something we will use even after the pandemic. The genie is out of the bottle now!”

“You get the best of both worlds with the EICC: they’re experts in both event planning and on the technical side, too.”

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