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ESTRO kickstarts in Madrid the return to large international congresses

ESTRO kickstarts in Madrid the return to large international congresses

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… Or so we hope! The congress of the European Society of Radiotherapy and Oncology  (ESTRO) is the first large congress taking place in Europe since the global pandemic started. It gathered 2,372 attendees physically, as well as 1,748 virtually (a mix which is the consequence of the fact that the price was the same for both options). It is also a very special congress, a Pioneer in the emerging notion of legacy, whose application process took into account the impact on the destination with a very significant weight in the selection criteria. So here is a doubly interesting congress which we had the pleasure of attending (brushing off our radiotherapy knowledge…). An ambitious decision, a successful one, and an experience full of learnings, for instance that quality is so much more important than quantity. Eric Mottard

Quality over quantity. It was the first time Madrid hosted this congress. Starting 27th of August, IFEMA hosted 2,372 professionals, besides the 1,748 ones connected remotely. It was obviously a smaller edition than before, but not much smaller, and this reduction did not result in lower satisfaction. “The circumstances to organize a large international congress were very challenging, but the result is very satisfying. We are happy with the numbers of the event, with about 2/3 of the audience comparing to before the pandemic, and an almost full exhibition. But even more, it was a triumph of “quality over quantity” with everyone attending delighted to be part of an onsite event again. The scientific content was excellent and the networking and face to face opportunities created enthusiasm both for the attendees, and the exhibitors”, says Alessandro Cortese, CEO of ESTRO.

Same price for online and physical. ESTRO took the unusual decision to have the same price for physical or digital. Unusual when we see some congresses having a price 2, 5 or 10 times lower for on-site “attendance”. This had two advantages: it enabled people to be absolutely flexible since they could register and decide whether to attend physically when the date got closer. And it obviously encouraged people to attend physically, for the same price, and therefore live the complete experience rather than grabs bits of content from their laptop. We know the key value of a congress is the ability to interact with your peers, define new projects with them, learn from your peers in an informal way in conversations… beyond showcasing your research or attending educational sessions.  As Alessandro says, “it is important to remember that a congress is not content only, but content + networking, one enhancing the other”.

Travel restrictions still impact. What nations were most present? Gold medal for the Netherlands, the most represented nation with 422 delegates followed by Germany (330). Interestingly, only one country had significantly more online delegates that physical ones, most probably due to travel challenges: the UK (112 people present, 200 remotely).

A festival of knowledge. Figures may be boring but as in many congresses, just checking the knowledge transmission gives an idea of how important this type of moment is for the medical specialty : 1900 abstracts, 174 sessions, 278 speakers. All this is knowledge dissemination, which does not include another very important one : the informal one of doctors meeting in the hallways and having meetings in which they share their know-how and define joint research projects.

Exhibition. There were 69 online exhibitors and 60 on-site ones, including 3 start-ups. Won’t a lower attendance result in dissatisfied exhibitors? Not at all, says Alessandro, on the contrary. This is where the “quality over quantity” kicks in: any exhibitor in a trade show or exhibition will tell you that having quality time with 20 important partners or clients, rather than 100 short and superficial contacts with not-necessarily-buying visitors, is very valuable This is what Alessandro says ESTRO exhibitors experienced: a high-quality time with important contacts. Besides the fact that direct contact was even more appreciated after 18 months of pandemic.

Conclusion: How necessary is the congress? According to Alessandro, “if you get me started… Despite all other considerations, we need social interactions and face-to-face networking. We have to be confident that large international meetings will be back, progressively”. Mission accomplished.

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