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Quick-thinking turns cancelled conference into virtual triumph

More than 520 delegates joined the virtual adaptation of the Australian Vision Convention (AVC), marking a major success for the event which narrowly avoided cancellation before eventually exceeding the number of attendees expected for the original face-to-face conference.

Cathryn Baker, OA QLD/NT.

Hosted by Optometry Queensland and Northern Territory and live streamed from the Brisbane this month, CEO Ms Cathryn Baker said demand reached unexpected levels with optometrists contacting the host organisation in the 11th hour to register.

“We had to have a cut-off date so we could send delegates the schedule and live streaming links but people kept contacting us, up until the night before it started, wanting to register,” she said.

Overwhelming interest in the AVC conference was welcomed by Optometry QLD/NT after the coronavirus outbreak forced the organisation to cancel the face-to-face component of the event, which had taken more than 12 months to plan

With optometrists expressing their overwhelming concern about how the cancellation would affect their CPD points, Baker presented the Optometry QLD/NT Board with a drastic solution that would need to be implemented within a few short weeks.

“I presented a business case to shift to a virtual live-streamed education conference because myself and the team believe we need to provide a service to optometrists, and we needed to give them the stability of offering the AVC conference and choice,” she said.

Optometry QLD/NT vice president Marissa Megaloconomos (left) with president Melinda Toomey.

“We’re in an environment where choice is being taken away. We need to offer choice and maintain a sense of consistency – so we proposed to the Board that we keep it on the same weekend, present the same program, keep the timing the same as much as possible, and give a quality product through live streaming.”

The Board backed Baker and her team and invested in the virtual conference approach; they then had less than two and a half weeks to turn it around.

“As each government restriction was getting tighter and tighter, we were keeping one step ahead of the game, preparing for a total lockdown,” she said.

Hitting a moving target

Prior to the event cancellation, Optometry QLD/NT were had started an initial conversation with a recording studio to arrange streaming for a few select speakers who were unable to present on the Gold Coast in person.

“We had started general discussion but shifting to a total live stream operation was a totally different beast. We had to do a lot on the run and all put in very long days to get it up,” Baker said. “We had faith our plan would succeed and we had high standards we wanted to uphold. As more restrictions came into play, we had to update our plan. The Board backed the plan every step of the way as they saw it as a vital service to optometrists.”

The AVC event team had to manage dozens of conference speakers arriving and departing from the recording studio while COVID-19 restrictions were in play, as well as remoting in speakers from around Australia.

Optometrist David Foresto hosting his AVC presentation online.

“We were funnelling the speakers through the room one-by-one, to ensure the safety and health of everyone. Because we were going into this with COVID-19 restrictions in place, we had to be precise about how we moved people around, while watching out for the next government announcement,” Baker said.

One of those speakers was optometrist Mr Michael Hare, an Eyecare Plus member with practises in Southport and Burleigh Heads, who presented on ‘Milestones over 40 Years, what have I missed?’, sponsored by Optos.

Hare said the success of the virtual conference was an indication that optometry education has a great future.

“The virtual conference was ground-breaking. Turning it around from a cancelled event to a virtual conference in the space of a couple of weeks is a credit to Optometry QLD/NT,” Hare said.

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