The EICC welcomes the world to talk mental health
Sonia Walter, Head of Event Operations at The Royal College of Psychiatrists, on how the EICC helped to make this year’s International Congress an unrivalled success
"As soon as our attendance doubled the EICC had built its extension, so a venue that was previously too small for us was suddenly perfect. We’ve used the EICC in the past for various events, and we know the service we’re going to get"
RCPsych International Congress • 26–29 June • 2,500 delegates • #RCPsychIC
Sonia Walter looks around her at a conference suite packed full of delegates. Every single ear is pricked and almost as many eyes are watering. The entire suite is glued to the final keynote of The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ International Congress. It is as humbling as it is harrowing, its speaker candidly discussing her near-tragic battle with postpartum psychosis, a severe mental illness that affects one in 500 new mothers.
“It was so moving, so powerful,” says Sonia, Head of Event Operations at The Royal College of Psychiatrists. “When the delegates – doctors, academics, policymakers and families – go back to their work, they’ll remember that keynote and treat people in a different way because of it. That’s really what we strive to achieve.”
An annual event, the International Congress is the College’s way of promoting best practice when it comes to treating people with mental illnesses and making sure that global societies have access to the latest scientific and clinical developments. It is one of the most prestigious events in the World Mental Health Conference calendar.
The EICC was both privileged and delighted to host the 2017 International Congress last month. Occupying the entire venue, it was the biggest event the College has run outside of London. More than 2,500 delegates attended four-days of breakout sessions, masterclasses and keynotes.
“A first class congress – very professional, showing the College in the best light. Not to be missed”
“The fact that the event was held in Edinburgh this year definitely had an influence on the numbers we achieved. We saw a big rise in overseas delegates, which we haven’t seen when we’ve been to places like Liverpool or Birmingham"
“It’s an event that has grown hugely,” says Sonia. “It started in the mid-1990s as the Annual Meeting of The Royal College of Psychiatrists. By 2006, it was welcoming 800 attendees before undergoing a transformation into its present incarnation – the International Congress – regularly drawing in between 1,300 and 1,500 attendees.”
With the issue of mental health very much under media and government scrutiny this year, the College required a host city that was as accessible as it was recognisable. “The fact that the event was held in Edinburgh this year definitely had an influence on the numbers we achieved,” says Sonia. “We saw a big rise in overseas delegates, which we haven’t seen when we’ve been to places like Liverpool or Birmingham. Edinburgh might not be as central as other UK cities, but people are absolutely willing to travel there. And with the international connections the city has, it really was an easy sell for us.”
While location counts, Sonia says that the top priority in organising the International Congress is always venue suitability. “In many ways the EICC has grown with us,” she says. “As soon as our attendance doubled the EICC had built its extension, so a venue that was previously too small for us was suddenly perfect. We’ve used the EICC in the past for various events, and we know the service we’re going to get. The configurability of the space, the organisational, the technical capability – all of this makes a huge difference for us.”
“A wonderful gathering in one of the best cities in the world, with a high quality of sessions and an excellent opportunity for networking”
Despite these benefits, what made the greatest impression upon Sonia during the event was something altogether simpler: the attitude of the staff. “They’re always super,” says Sonia. “No matter where you see them they’re always so happy and smiley, and delegates comment on that. It sounds basic but few event spaces can honestly say that they do this.”
This year was the first time the International Congress achieved more than 2,500 attendees outside of London, and already many of those attendees have provided feedback on the event – feedback of a kind that Sonia admits she’s never had before. “Everybody is commenting on the mood of the event,” she says. “I’ve never known delegates to talk like this about one of our events. I really can’t stress enough how easy and how successful it’s all been.”