Expanding the Audience
Keystone Symposia worked with partner Digitell to build out the virtual platform for the two-day eSymposia, which included speaker presentations, live Q&A, and panel discussions — all of which remains available on demand. The virtual platform opened up access by eliminating the need to travel and reducing the cost of the event itself. That, coupled with financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, made it possible for 274 individuals from low- or middle-income countries and 252 students, post-docs, and early-career scientists to attend for free.
For students and early-career scientists attending the vaccinology eSymposia, Weiman said Keystone made it a point to create space and opportunity for them to connect. “It’s about the content and … cutting-edge research,” she said, “but just as equally, it’s about the engagement with and between the community.” Interactive poster sessions included a live-chat feature. Participants could also upload a short video presentation — “like a trailer for their work” — which will stay up until March, nine months after the meeting concluded.
This urge to find ways to engage more deeply is central to Keystone’s work with its portfolio of around 60 scientific communities. “Organizers are sad about not being able to meet in person,” Weiman said, “but they’re most sad about the students who won’t have that opportunity to share their work and to become engaged with the community because they feel like that’s one of the most important and formidable parts of the meetings.” In some cases, they’ve opted to mold the event to focus more on talks given by the younger or up-and-coming trainees. Other solutions include giving students the option to make one-on-one appointments with other attendees or speakers as well as career-focused roundtables via Zoom for networking.
During speaker sessions at the vaccinology eSymposia, live Q&A proved quite successful in giving everyone an equal platform. Weiman said that she thinks that is where virtual has a leg up on in-person events. “I think that’s actually been a benefit above a regular meeting because … you might get three people raising their hand to ask questions and often it’s the field leader who’s in the front row,” Weiman said. “In this case, we see so many more questions from so many younger trainees … who might be too nervous to get up in front of everyone at a meeting but feel more comfortable at their computer to type in their question … and also [from] those who might not speak English as fluently [who] feel more comfortable typing in the question.”
Keystone also turned those live Q&A’s into ongoing forums — plans call for them to be kept open at least until March to allow the discussions to keep evolving. “The speakers have all been really enthusiastic to engage in that as well,” Weiman said, “and to continue to connect with the audience after they give their talk.”