We have faced incredible changes in the past 6 months. Communicating, interacting, socializing, and exchanging ideas have become new challenges, with some frustrations but also creative solutions. How many of us have taken part in a drive-by celebration of a birthday or graduation? Our curiosity about the outdoors and for arts and culture were partially fulfilled through virtual park and museum tours. The importance of science and having the best scientists to solve the crisis of the pandemic have been lauded as our hopes for the future and a return to a more normal humanity.
Our need to communicate science and to learn from thought leaders appeared to be compromised as ACS made the difficult decision to cancel the spring 2020 ACS National Meeting & Expo. We were not alone; many spring conferences made the same decision. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, held in May, and the Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference (GC&E), held in June, offered entirely virtual content in place of their in-person meetings. Many of us have also enjoyed the virtual seminars being offered by ACS divisions.
The virtual ASCO meeting was offered as two parallel symposia of prerecorded content delivered at a scheduled time, with searchable seminars and posters and abstracts viewable at any time. The event set a record with over 43,000 attendees. The GC&E conference also set a record, with 4,985 attendees; conference demographics showed that 87% of participants were first-time attendees, and 55% were from outside the US, representing 99 different countries.
Over the past few years, ACS’s Committee on Meetings & Expositions (M&E) has been making recommendations and working with ACS staff to implement changes to the national meeting to improve members’ experiences. These changes include testing electronic-poster platforms, organizing stadium presentations with headsets, and adjusting the timing of program offerings. Some of these changes are poised for the future, while others are not compatible with a COVID-19 future. M&E’s four subcommittees have been benchmarking other scientific conferences, large and small, in the areas of technical programming, vendors and expos, networking, and operations for platform offerings, plus other creative ideas to shape our national and regional meetings.
As M&E considers conferences of the future, we recognize several trends. There is little overlap in attendees at the spring and fall national meetings. The national meeting has experienced growth in content and concurrent sessions but little growth in overall attendance. To accommodate increased content, there has been greater need to use remote sites for technical sessions. While on the positive side we see an increasingly globalized membership, unfortunately attendance by industry members has decreased.
M&E’s current focus is on recommendations for a hybrid meeting format, with both live and virtual content and attendees. This platform has the potential to reduce meeting rooms needed and allow for broader attendance from our global membership. There is an increased opportunity to infuse meetings with virtual platforms for networking. Vendors will have the ability to have both live and virtual demos for their products.
The ACS Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting & Expo will take place Aug. 17–20. Various platforms are being used to deliver content. Attendees will be able to participate in 250-plus broadcast sessions, live daily kickoffs, and interactive poster presentations, with on-demand presentations available through Aug. 28. More than 6,000 papers will be presented. Attendees will be able to customize their schedules and bookmark all the presentations they want to view.
Though technical programming is the main event at the conference, many other features are important to its success, including networking and the exposition. We’re hosting networking events to help you connect and share ideas with your peers from around the world. In addition to chat and messaging features, video rooms will be available throughout the meeting for deep-dive conversations and social events.
The ACS Expo is going virtual with the ability to meet and interact with exhibitors. The ACS Booth will be interactive and full of useful information. And the ACS Store will be available for all your chemistry gifting and self-gifting needs.
As we embark on an entirely virtual ACS meeting, we want your feedback from the experience. What is working well, what isn’t, and what new ideas do you have for meetings of the future? As M&E and ACS staff consider a hybrid platform for future meetings, what ideas do you have for making our national and regional meetings the best experience possible? We are a resilient and adaptable organization with an active membership and science that shapes and impacts humankind. Share your thoughts with us at M&E@acs.org.
Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.