When the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) and the Association of Genetic Technologists (AGT) decided to move their 2020 Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) to an online format, it took a minute for organizers to find the right support tools for managing communication between themselves as well as attendees. The best solutions turned out to be some of the simplest — the ever-popular Zoom platform and Microsoft’s messaging app, GroupMe.
The online event, held from June 28 – July 2, drew 828 registered attendees (an increase of nearly 150 compared to the year prior), and included 60 educational sessions, five pre-conference workshops, and 39 poster presentations. Attendees could also partake in virtual happy hours, “Kazoom” social hours (more on that later), as well as virtual yoga breaks.
The team running the event consisted of seven people in different locations across the country. They wanted one central platform for their internal conversations — GroupMe made the most sense. “We all used [Slack, WhatsApp, and other popular messaging apps] for other things, so GroupMe was a clear channel,” said Michael Cubbage, CMP, CGMP. Cubbage and Vicki Johnson of Vicki Johnson & Associates made up the ASCLS’ independent planning team. “It’s quick, free, and easy… and we knew that anything that came through GroupMe during the day was for the conference and needed to be addressed right away.”
For live attendee support, they settled on another simple solution — a virtual help desk via Zoom. They kept the room open for the duration of the conference, so that whenever attendees had a question, they could just pop in and someone from the team could answer it right away. “It was well-used,” said Cubbage. “The attendees really loved this, and many were surprised that someone was in there.”
Attendees also had the option of sending their questions to a general conference email address, which went to all eight staff members to ensure nothing was missed. Divvying up team members according to specific kinds of questions ahead of the conference helped to keep the flow organized.
When it came to breaks and social hours, adding in a fun activity proved successful in drawing attendance. A conference attendee who happened to be a yoga instructor taught two virtual yoga sessions, which drew more than 30 participants. “I think because it was peer-led, attendees responded really well to that, verses a class taught by a stranger,” Cubbage said.
Organizers also sent goody boxes full of swag out to attendees prior to the conference that included a Kazoo. “They would come into a Zoom meeting during a social break and collectively Kazoo a song together,” he added. “They called it, ‘The Daily Kazoom.’”