This piece could, in my opinion, consist of one word: yes. OK, we could possibly stretch to seven words: yes, a very healthy and long-term one!
In recognition of the evidence-based approach we all are told to follow these days, the rest of the article will provide some evidence for this opinion. However, some may suggest that, like many of my presentations, much of my opinion will be anecdotal and subjective: based on my recent attendance at the BEVA Annual Congress held at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Birmingham.
Prior to attending, I had not realised it was the first “people” event held at the ICC since the pandemic struck. Although sheltered from the organisational practicalities, I was aware from my BEVA presidency term just how much work is done to deliver BEVA Congress. Imagine how much harder this was against a backdrop of uncertainty about whether the event would be held or not? And if it was, what would be the rules on numbers, stand size, and so on? Add to this the fact that liaising with ICC staff was difficult as many were simply not working at the time planning was taking place for the event.
I can only begin to imagine the pressure for the BEVA staff. I don’t want to single any particular people out as congress is always a tremendous team effort. We all know a team is more than the sum of its parts and this was superbly illustrated by Tim Greet during his plenary lecture at congress which focused on the concept of working as a team. However, even within the whole hardworking team, I have been told about the monumental effort put in by a couple of the BEVA staff in particular. You know who you are and a big “Chapeau!” from me to you both.
I know I speak not just for myself, but also for the 500-plus delegates and industry colleagues present, that we are so grateful to BEVA for making such an enormous effort to make this event possible. More so, given that they made a small financial loss in putting the event on, despite the wonderful support from the many industry stands that attended; I would also like to thank every last one of those for running with the event even though it was never going to have the same footfall as in previous years. Without doubt the decision to press ahead with a “live” congress was brave, but absolutely the correct one. This was the unanimous view of all the past BEVA presidents I had the opportunity to speak with. It is rare for that group to speak with such a single voice on a topic!
The attendance was naturally down from the figure of just over a thousand who normally attend congress. Of these, around 700 are usually UK-based delegates with 300 being from overseas. With the exception of several of our wonderful Irish colleagues, there was almost a total absence of overseas delegates. Noteworthy was a Polish student who must be congratulated on making the effort to get over here. Well done indeed.
There was a strict adherence to the relevant COVID protection policies, with the ICC checking every delegate’s status and a wristband being applied to confirm this had been done. This appeared to work extremely well and was efficiently and unobtrusively monitored by the ICC staff.
There is no doubt that online learning opportunities have grown enormously since the pandemic and BEVA Congress had a virtual stream running in tandem to the in-person event. The colleagues who put that on did a superb job, and it proved extremely popular. Having spoken at several overseas meetings in the past 18 months, there are the obvious advantages to online events such as ease and flexibility of access.
The “Zoom Boom” has been well documented, although it is now apparent that there has been a drop in virtual instructor-led training. Nonetheless, one would imagine online courses will continue to have a major role going forward. Maybe a hybrid system would work well with all the lectures being available in an online format sent out to delegates ahead of the practical component of the course. This would allow delegates to be totally “up to speed”, allowing efficient delivery of the practical “hands-on” component of the course in a shorter time than if lectures were also given face to face.
However, the bottom line is that humans are a social species. The collaboration between speakers and delegates is always going to be better in a face-to-face situation compared with an online e-learning experience. Simply seeing everyone and being able to chat and enjoy catching up over a glass (or two) of wine is such a simple pleasure that we perhaps took for granted pre-pandemic. After an 18-month absence, the opportunity to do so in Birmingham was one to savour. As for the legendary annual Dinner Dance, it was back to its very best with enthusiastic interaction, banter, dancing and even crowd surfing! Now, you can’t achieve that virtually! So here’s to the return of face-to-face BEVA Congresses going forward. We have missed them!