Festival of Neuroscience, British Neuroscience Association
Outsourced Events successfully supported and helped pioneer the first virtual BNA2021 Festival of Neuroscience and produced an abundance of converts to virtual events. Across four days, from 12–15 April, the 1,500+ delegate event was triumphant in delivering an outstanding replacement for the usual live-event predecessors.
They say, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life”, which must explain why working with OE to deliver BNA2021 felt less like a work project, and more like a getting together with friends to combine forces, share goals, overcome challenges, celebrate successes, and thoroughly enjoy the process along the way.
That’s not to say that doing what you love doesn’t simultaneously involve a lot of hard work too. Along with many others, the BNA’s buzzwords of 2020 included uncertainty, anxiety, and constantly moving goalposts. Throughout it all the OE team barely batted an eyelid, as we changed from in-person to socially distanced to 100% online, but instead rolled up their sleeves and worked alongside us to make it happen. All the OE staff were committed, professional, thorough, and always cognisant of the BNA membership’s particular needs. It was genuinely like having an extension of the BNA’s own team, but with the added wealth of talent and experience brought by OE.
As always, the most important outcome of an event is how it is received by its audience. BNA2021 was received overwhelmingly positively by delegates, sponsors, supporters, and speakers too, frequently with praise for the organisation as much as the content. Maintaining good relations with all our stakeholders like this is incredibly important for the BNA.
In short, having OE as our events management company for BNA2021 ensured that we not only met our chief goal of bringing together the neuroscience community in an effective, valuable, enjoyable conference during a very challenging time, but also did so in a way that exuded professionalism, delivered on budget, and means we cannot wait to get ‘not working’ on the next one
‘I have to say #BNA2021 is hands down the best organised online conference I’ve attended in a while.’ – BNA Festival attendee on Twitter.
It was hard to imagine in March 2020 that we really needed to consider the need to move from live to virtual for an event scheduled to take place in April 2021. However, in an industry where we always should be expecting the unexpected, contingency plans were in place throughout the process.
A significant amount of research was done on how to run a live event safely, one-way systems around the venue and exhibition, sanitising stations, screens in appropriate places, and more. The realisation that moving online might need to be given serious consideration came in autumn 2020 when there was still talk of, and hope for, face-to-face events opening in October. There were several elements to consider: the legal situation as dictated by the Government lockdown rules, any venue specific requirements imposed by the venue or the Council managing the venue, the impact of social distancing on capacities and delegate movement and last, but very far from being least, the feeling and preference of the BNA membership.
As with many Association events, the live BNA Festival has significantly more elements beyond the programme of technical sessions (of which there were many). As mentioned in other articles, the hardest formats to recreate online, mainly due to their interactive nature, are the exhibition, the poster presentations and networking opportunities; all of which are considered to be key elements of the Festival. Discussions with the BNA team about how to deliver the Festival online as a whole and in particular the above three elements led to another review of the platforms available. This included platforms previously reviewed and new platforms targeting the Associations’ market specifically.
Unless you opt for the extremely expensive, bespoke option, any platform choice is going to involve compromise and adaptation. However, with Swapcard, and its use of AI for matchmaking we felt that we could deliver the Festival in a way that was true to its live version and give delegates the kind of experience they would have enjoyed at a physical event.
Swapcard simplified what could have been a bombardment of information and a complicated schedule for attendees into an easy-to-navigate, personalised agenda specific to each attendee with the ‘My event’ function. This allowed multiple streams to run smoothly and coherently for those attending.
I also believe the phrase ‘there is strength in numbers’ has a suitable relevance to the smooth-running of the sessions throughout the week. The dedicated Festival organisers, tech team, and session captains that were behind the scenes ensured that at any moment there were multiple people on hand to rectify any issues that may occur. It also gave speakers the ability to focus solely on their speeches as everything from being muted/unmuted to receiving their audited questions from the Q&A stream was executed by the team backstage.
The BNA Festival prides itself on the opportunities available for its members and consequently it was vital the platform could facilitate several additional benefits that delegates could gain while attending. The ‘Job Board’, where advertised opportunities were displayed and ‘Career speed dating’, in which mentors could give advice 1-to-1 to delegates from all career stages were particular standouts in successfully fulfilling membership perks from a virtual space.
Engagement was also a key factor and one that is considered more difficult in the virtual space. The platform allowed delegates to interact directly through discussion groups and chat functions and socialise in an exclusive showing of Disney’s Inside Out for the ‘film night.’ The opportunity to win prizes with the ‘Brain Quest’ was also a way to increase engagement of attendees through gamification.
Supporters and sponsors
Without sponsors many Association events would struggle to take place and the BNA Festival is no different. It was therefore crucial that those sponsoring virtually were maximising their opportunities of networking as much, if not more so, than the live counterpart. The value they were receiving had to be on the same par as previous live events, but this can be difficult compared to the natural networking abilities of being in person.
The platform allowed the sponsors to request meetings and connect with attendees and rate leads. We also developed a new sponsor package format: annual, six-month, three-month, and Festival supporter. This gave the sponsors opportunities to deliver extra thought leadership content for targeted talks and networking, and the opportunity for branding and visibility throughout the entire year if desired. We ensured the sponsors fully utilised the opportunities of networking available at all stages before, during, and after the event to help them achieve the most value from their participation.
We were extremely happy to receive the following feedback from one of the sponsors:
“This has honestly been the best online festival I’ve attended and exhibited at, I’ve had lots of engagement with other delegates (much more than I’ve had at other events) and everything has run so smoothly. Huge congratulations to you and the team, your hard work really has paid off.“
The BNA2021 Festival of Neuroscience was one of our biggest and most complex events online so far. If I had advice, it would be: Stay calm. Plan carefully. Consider all eventualities and brief all quarters fully.
We pivoted to a virtual event with very successful delivery, developed new sponsorship package formats, exceeded attendance numbers and successful delivered a poster format online. The event was a roaring success. On to the next!
To discuss anything mentioned in this article or to find out more about how Outsourced Events can assist you get in touch with us today on +44 (0)330 460 6007 or email us email@example.com.