The story behind Congress

Last week the College held our first virtual Congress. Over 3,300 people attended from 57 countries, to take their pick from 17 keynotes and 80 sessions, in addition to an amazing range of ‘fringe’ events from salsa to yoga.

Below, we spoke to the staff team who organised the event, and asked for the story of what went into planning and delivering the event.

Please tell us about the planning of the event – did you consider a hybrid event, when did you know it would be an online event, and what did you do next?

Back in August 2020 proposing to move the Congress entirely online felt like a brave one. In-person events were due to start again in the Autumn and the hopeful news of the first vaccines were emerging.

However, the more we thought about the possibility of pressing ahead with a face to face event then the more we just could not imagine a situation where 3,000 people could comfortably meet.

We were concerned that hybrid event in such uncertain times would be the worst of both worlds and that we would be better to move online and focus on creating the best possible online experience for all attendees.

When the decision was made to move ahead with an entirely online Congress our initial relief was quickly replaced by trepidation. None of us had ever run something of this scale online before and many other organisations as well as the wider events industry were in the same situation.

Very few International Associations had pressed ahead with online Congresses at that time.

How did you approach the challenge of bringing over the feel and excitement of the in person International Congress to an online platform?

When we set about moving Congress online we wanted to replicate as much as possible of the in-person event.

This meant being able to deliver a multi-stream high quality educational programme with posters, an exhibition and most importantly, the ability for delegates to easily contact each other.

We also wanted Congress to look and feel very different from the Zoom, Teams and the other meeting platforms we were all spending increasing amounts of time on in our work and personal lives.

Whilst there are a large and increasing number of online event platforms around there were very few that had a proven track record of delivering an event of the size and complexity of Congress.

We quickly narrowed it down to a couple of platforms and 6Connex, which we eventually used, quickly became the forerunner.

However, the platform is only part of the story because we also needed to identify a method of delivering all the lectures, talks and content which sit behind the platform.

In the end we opted for five different types of delivery, depending on the content which comprised of a mixture of pre-recorded content, Zoom streamed into the platform through Vimeo, 6Connex’s webinar platform, Zoom webinars for the Rapid-Fire Posters and Microsoft Teams for some of the RCPsych Lounge sessions.

We quickly realised that we would need help to deliver our ambitious programme so we brought on-board an experienced Events Agency who predominantly work with International Associations and had run a Congress on 6Connex before.

Their help was invaluable in the building of the platform, managing the pre-recording, facilitating speaker training and being our eyes and ears in each of the live sessions on the day to make sure things ran smoothly and we were alerted to any issues.

What was your expectation about how much interest there would be in a virtual International Congress, compared to the in person Congresses we have known before?

We really had no idea how well an online Congress would be received and the build up to the early bird booking deadline is always a nervous time for Congress organisers. The record-breaking early bird registrations were a massive relief for us and the College as a whole and helped give us confidence that the move to online was the right one.

The programme was a huge draw and we are indebted to all those who took the time to submit sessions and the Congress Advisory Board who undertook the huge task of scoring them all. We are also very grateful to the Congress Executive who took on all the scores and feedback from the Advisory Board to create the eventual programme, which is the heart of Congress. One the advantages of online delivery was our ability to invite more international keynotes that we would have been able to do otherwise.

Did delivering the event online feel as high pressured to those of you behind the scenes, as delivering a physical event? What was the experience for you as organisers?

Delivering the Congress this year was slightly different to delivering a face to face event. It was quite surreal on the Monday morning not having the influx of delegates arrive and us being able to great and welcome them from all across the world. Like so many, it was certainly an element of the Congress that we missed as a team.

It was however, great to be able to set up a Congress HQ within Prescot Street. We have been away from the building for so long, it was so nice to be able to meet with Colleagues, the College officers and the Congress Executive Committee again all in one place.

Thanks to the interactivity of the platform, and the teams hard work in putting all of the content together it certainly still felt like an occasion. One of the highlights of Congress each year is being able to meet with so many of our members. Despite not being able to meet in person this year we still felt like we were able to bring everyone together over the four days.

There was still a buzz of excitement as we went live at 9.00am on Monday with Adrian James’ Presidential Address and it was fantastic to be able to interact with so many delegates through the Q&A function in the sessions and on social media.

What were the most watched talks, and are there any other highlights you want to mention?

This year’s Congress saw a jam packed programme of 17 Keynote addresses and over 80 sessions. Alongside this we had 841 poster presentations, 145 rapid fire poster presentations and a full programme of Congress Cultural Fringe events.

The most watched talks of the Congress include a number of the Keynote presentations. Professor Sir Michael Marmot’s talk on Social justice, health equity and Covid-19 was the most watched talk of the entire Congress with 1,400 delegates joining live. This was closely followed by the excellent keynote talks from Professor Catherine Harmer, Michael Rosen and Professor Sir Graham Thornicroft.

The top-viewed sessions include:

  • TC1 Treatment Resistant Psychosis part 1 and 2, which took place on Monday 21 June and included presentations from Professor Iris Sommer, Professor James MacCabe, Dr Emilio Fernandez-Egea, Professor Sir Robin Murray, Professor Rachel Upthegrove and Professor Sukhi Shergill and;
  • S13 The art and science of deprescribing psychotropic medication on Tueday 22 June, featuring talks from Professor Wendy Burn, Professor David Taylor and Dr Mark Horowitz

Two new innovations this year included the Congress Lounge, which featured a number of interactive sessions, including special extended Q&A sessions with some of our Keynote speakers which have been viewed over 1,500 times.

The other innovation was the Congress Cultural Fringe, which featured a number of activities across the four days covering yoga, salsa dancing, wine tasting, poetry, musical performances and comedy.

A particular highlight was the award winning film CURED: Meet the LGBTQ activists who refused to accept psychiatry’s mental-illness label and changed history and the conversation with the filmmakers Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon, in conversation with Rainbow SIG Chair Dr Maire Cooney and Dr Josep Vilanova.

We would like to thank all of our speakers for their contributions to the 2021 International Congress and helping us put together our most varied, inspiring and relevant programme yet

How many delegates watched, from how many countries?

We had a total of 3,354 delegates registered for this year’s Congress. This figure includes a record breaking number of trainees, students and foundation doctors compared to previous years. Over the four days we had a total of 1,579 delegates logged in at any one time and 2,687 individuals logged in to the platform in total.

We had delegates in attendance from 57 countries across the world, with delegates from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, USA and Canada being the highest following the UK.

It has been amazing to share all of our talks, presentations, posters and activities with you over the four days despite not being able to meet in person. If you missed out on all of this there is still time to catch up. You can register now for the Congress to access all content on-demand up until 31 December.

Back to our June 2021 eNewsletter.

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