An attendee checks in for The Aesthetic Meeting 2021 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The Aesthetic Society required all attendees — whether vaccinated or not — to wear masks. (Photos courtesy Greater Miami CVB)
When The Aesthetic Meeting 2021 — the signature annual event of The Aesthetic Society — convened at the Miami Beach Convention Center in early May, the hybrid event was remarkable for several reasons. Perhaps most surprising, though, was its pricing model: Organizers charged the same registration fee for virtual attendees as on-site attendees.
“My dream would be for everyone to adopt that pricing model,” said Sue Dykema, CAE, executive director of The Aesthetic Society and the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation (ASERF). “People tend to think virtual should be ‘less expensive,’ but the cost to offer virtual is above and beyond normal audiovisual expense and adds cost for the organizer.”
The Aesthetic Meeting 2021’s welcome reception took place at the Loews Miami Beach hotel — one of several off-site venues the group took over in Miami Beach for social functions, including Dolce, The Betsy, The Temple House, and The Villa.
Held at the Miami Beach Convention Center from April 29 to May 3, the in-person meeting saw 714 attendees while the virtual program attracted slightly less — 515. The meeting’s exhibition, the Aesthetic Marketplace, hosted 972 exhibitor representatives from 119 companies. In addition to the exhibition, the program included educational sessions, various symposia, and social functions.
According to Dykema, this pricing model had several benefits for attendees as well as the organization. It gave attendees the ability to easily change their registration from virtual to in-person, or vice versa, if their comfort level changed. This is “all part of our ‘Your Choice’ positioning,” she said. Attending virtually allowed participants to save on travel and hotel costs, while attending in-person gave them the added benefit of networking with colleagues.
“The value of our education is the same and we did not want to diminish that by offering lower fees for virtual participation,” Dykema said.
Since pivoting its live annual meeting in April 2020 to digital in less than two weeks, the organization has found the virtual landscape to be “very successful.” The Aesthetic Society has hosted a series of virtual events since then with partner Digitell, which also produced The Aesthetic Meeting 2021.
“So when we were looking ahead to 2021 and what was possible … we really wanted an in-person event and it was just obvious we had to offer hybrid,” she said.
That meant making some changes to make sure that both audiences were getting the most out of the experience. For example, this year organizers asked all presenters to speak live at the meeting. “This certainly made the educational experience for both in-person and virtual [attendees] more robust and allowed for discussion that we typically don’t see when speakers present remotely,” Dykema said.
One major lesson learned from managing a hybrid experience — dedicate a staff to overseeing the virtual component. “Because when you’re on site, you just don’t have time to deal with that virtual audience,” said Sue Dykema, CAE, executive director of The Aesthetic Society.