Like many events, this year’s planned Australian Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons (AUSCRS) conference at Noosa was thwarted by COVID-19. However, the conference team sprang into action and went virtual on 23 October… and a fantastic job they did too.
AUSCRS president, Professor Graham Barrett, treasurer Dr Rick Wolfe and conference organiser Jenny Boden – who has managed every AUSCRS conference over the years – decided to do something that differed from the now ubiquitous webinars and live streamed events. Together with award winning company, Virtual Events, and the Remo platform, they created what most would agree was the next best thing to a face-to-face event.
All round, kudos to AUSCRS for a great event…almost all 200 delegates remained online and engaged for the whole day
AUSCRS 2021 was divided into a plenary session hall and a separate ‘AUSCRS virtual world’.
The virtual world comprised sponsors’ exhibition booths with breakout rooms that delegates could join for a live video and audio chat, by simply clicking on an empty seat. It didn’t take long to get the hang of things, and, as Karen Fowler from the platinum sponsor Alcon said, this was “by far the best virtual conference and exhibition” she had experienced. Her view was shared by fellow platinum sponsor Bausch + Lomb (B+L), with Avni Parikh stating that it was “much more real than other virtual platforms she had encountered”. Ms Parikh was pleased to host their invited international speaker, Dr Audrey Rostov from Seattle, live in the B+L booth, immediately following her lecture in the plenary hall. This presented a valuable opportunity to discuss aspects of Dr Rostov’s talk, which detailed the use of aberration neutral IOLs in complex cataract cases.
Commenting on the unique platform, Jeremy Rebion, of newly-rebranded sponsor Eyetek, said, “The AUSCRS team did a great job in trying to replicate the interaction a normal conference would provide. It gave the opportunity to showcase our solutions efficiently and for the audience to reach out when they wanted, and how they wanted. The option of meeting ‘face-to-face’ in our booth was also very good. Of course, we still look forward to a real ‘physical’ event next year!”
Meeting up with Andy McKie in the Lumenis booth was interesting. Using the whiteboard function, he showcased some of his company’s current and forthcoming technologies and products. The whiteboard also allowed delegates to download information for later reference and action.
We visited a number of other suppliers. It was great seeing friends, colleagues and company personnel, who we had not seen for the better part of two years. People were positive and excited by the technology – as Dr Michael Lawless said, when we bumped into him in the booth of gold sponsor Zeiss, it was “fabulous”.
Alongside the sponsors’ exhibition booths, there were a number of tables in the ‘lounge’ area where you could similarly click on an empty seat and join in a discussion or catch up with mates. You could hover your mouse over the initials of the person on one of the taken seats in an exhibition booth or lounge table and their profile would pop up. You could also send them a private text message to T-up a meeting or suggest you both meet with someone in an exhibitor’s booth. Despite numerous people interacting and talking over each other, the audio remained excellent, which was noted by a number of delegates.
After the fourth and final afternoon plenary session, we were invited to stay on for happy hour, sponsored by Credabl, which offers “more than just medical finance”.
We were encouraged to open and enjoy a bottle of fine wine at home while sommelier Wiremu Andrews provided educational titbits on the finer points of wine and winemaking, varieties and more. Western Australia (WA) based organiser Graham Barrett asked Mr Andrews to explain to delegates why WA wines like those from Margaret River, were ‘the best wines in Australia’. You could virtually hear Victorians and South Australians choke on their Shiraz. Mr Andrews was quick to pick up Graham’s native South African accent and instantly retorted, “because WA is close to South Africa?”, which aroused much mirth. The virtual world remained open during happy hour and beyond, enabling delegates to continue networking with colleagues in the lounge or exhibitor’s booths.
All round, kudos to AUSCRS for a great event. It was notable that almost all 200 delegates remained online and engaged for the whole day.
The plenary sessions, presentations, panels and core messages will be detailed in a forthcoming edition of mivision.