Ruth Lilian has been managing The VERVE Symposium for many years. The 2021 event was her most challenging yet.
Each year I manage an annual conference – The VERVE Symposium – at ICC in the first week of December – we usual have over 500 attending and, following the cancellation of the 2020 conference, the end of the NSW lockdown this year and, with just on six weeks to go, my convenor and I started the ball rolling. It was not possible to advertise, promote, finalise invitations and further plan the program until we felt safe to do so and the way to do it was to run a hybrid event so that whoever could come would and everyone else would watch online.
The conference is a state-of-the-art three-day non-invasive endovascular conference. In the six week time-frame, I worked with 76 international and ANZ experts in the vascular surgery specialty, managing pre-recorded presentations, virtual presentations from those in ANZ, live surgical cases via satellite, pre-recorded cases from Europe and ANZ, as well as live presentations from those who were face-to-face presenters. Normally, we would have live surgical cases from a number of operating theatres around the world. This year we managed live cases from Germany and pre-recorded cases from other European and ANZ hospitals.
With the latest COVID strain bringing more restrictions for travellers, there were two international experts braving it to Sydney. After general and compelling exemption letters of invitation, visas and flight issues on Sunday morning received news of the 72 hour isolation for anyone entering Australia. One surgeon was arriving that morning and I managed to contact him via WhatsApp prior to his arrival, so as he knew the moment the plane landed what he was in for. Well, you can imagine how thrilled he was, which meant that the work he had come to do prior to the conference, would not be happening. My other overseas surgeon was not arriving until later in the week and she would have missed the conference by being in isolation. Therefore I cancelled her coming. Forty-five other internationals would not brave it!!!
For the Australians, with SA just opening their doors, and Vic two weeks prior – I was hopeful that we would achieve delegates from both states. There was still trepidation regarding travel. All attending delegates were part of the health workforce and, unfortunately, some hospitals were not allowing anyone travelling back from interstate to return to work in their hospital environment for seven days. This meant that interstate face-to-face attendees became virtual attendees.
I am pleased to say that just over 100 attended in person; more than 162 registered as virtual delegates; 76 international and ANZ experts delivered the latest in technology, trials, surgical procedures, imaging and patient care. Our sponsors were with us all the way and, whilst it was impossible to have an exhibition floor plan released until well into October, we achieved a very well attended industry exhibition and, even had to turn companies away, in order to ensure all COVID rules and regulations were carried through.
The week is now over, the feeling of pride and achievement is certainly there, not only for me, but for every service provider that I had the pleasure to work with to ensure that our conference would be the success that it was. My journey would not have worked as well without all who travelled with me – ICC, and the AV team for ensuring that every presentation, case, onsite presenter, virtual links and so much more, was achieved; the floor staff, food and beverage team – some new, some not, easing their way back into the venue and doing what they do best, together with Moreton Hire who were working on their first exhibition with an entire new team, and all other services brought in to make the conference happen.
Delegates, sponsors and exhibitors couldn’t wait to meet their clients and colleagues face-to-face. Everyone said we have had enough virtual and zoom meetings – we need to see the people!
As we announced the 2022 dates, I trust there is no going back and it is absolutely essential for our industry to push on. For me the key words have been resilience and flexibility. We do need to build trust again with previous clients as well as new, and encourage them to take the journey together.
Having been in the industry for 47 years, one we didn’t have when I started, this period has taught me about changing ways, doing things differently, going with the flow – our old ways may no longer work for us. It is also important to learn as well as understand, new technology, how all the AV works and what other opportunities and avenues are available. It will keep us young and on our toes.
Please remember the people and companies you have worked with in the past – some may have had to close their doors, but may have reinvented themselves and, then there are those who have weathered the storm, and we all need to keep in touch.
Having worked on international, national and state conferences, where there were disasters, caused by national and world events, strikes and weather, I think I need to add the 2021 VERVE Symposium to my list. It certainly was not an easy one to pull off, but the passion and happiness was there to ensure that those who attended in person, had the best possible time in attending their first face-to-face conference in a very long time. During the last session, quite a long one, the best way to keep everyone happy was with a drink, ice-cream and popcorn – they all cheered and said they thought they were at the movies!!
And that’s my wish, thoughts, and story.