Thirteen is a lucky number in Italy — and for Milan-based conference organizer AIM Group International, which created Re-Think MS, a multi-hub, one-day CME event in 13 different cities in the country in early March.
Only a small percentage of planner respondents to the PCMA Convene Dashboard survey series have selected a hub-and-spoke option as a hybrid model they’re considering for events, but it’s a winning formula for AIM. The March conference, which brought the neurologist community together to discuss progress on diagnosis and early treatment of multiple sclerosis, was not the first of its kind that AIM has organized, said Barbara Sambugaro, business manager, AIM Education. Another multi-hub AIM event connected as many as 40 venues, she told Convene.
Nine expert speakers (one remote) broadcast training sessions from the main studio in Rome, with 180 remote participants. The joint event was simulcast in the morning from Rome and projected on big screens at the 13 hotels hosting the event throughout Italy.
It wasn’t only a one-way knowledge transmission, however. Sambugaro said that “hostesses” took questions from participants at each of the locations and communicated them to the broadcasting venue to be addressed by the experts.
In the afternoon, each group was encouraged to comment on findings from the joint morning session and discuss their own clinical cases with local faculty members who joined them.
This arrangement works especially well given the Italian medical system, Sambugaro said. “The patient journey in Italy is very specifically connected to regional rules,” she said, “so it made sense to have this session managed locally because the participants could understand what [their peers] experience in their clinical experience each day.”
In addition, the multi-hub approach has been a particularly effective way of navigating the pandemic by bringing small groups together — 20-30 people in each small meeting room — instead of hosting a mass gathering, she said, and having the program delivered at hotels afforded better access than at hospitals during COVID.
“I guess the thing that was mostly appreciated by the participants,” Sambugaro said, is that the approach gave them the best of two worlds. “We had a video play at the beginning of the event, showing that all the venues were connected, so it was just not a local event they were at — they were part of something bigger.” Yet at the same time, the small group setting gave them a chance, she said, “to have a very informal relationship with the experts.”
In a post on his Conferences that Work blog, conference designer Adrian Segar writes: “If you want maximum learning, interaction, and connection at a meeting, small meetings are better than large meetings. Using good meeting design, simply splitting a single large group of participants into multiple small groups in an intelligent way provides increased opportunities for each group’s members to connect and interact around relevant content.” The approach also reduces participant travel time and costs — in-person pods can be set up at convenient geographical locations.
Segar has found that this method can be applied to a fully digital event — an online pod viewing an online hub event. That could take shape for a conference exploring the implications of a medical breakthrough by organizing “tribes” this way: one pod for patient groups that the discovery will affect; another for medical professionals delivering the new technology or procedure; and yet another group could be scientists working on next iterations.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief at Convene.