My job entails, in part, delivering stellar educational conferences. I assist and guide physician course directors in the planning of their program, secure funding to ensure financial viability, and create eye-catching marketing materials to grab attention and help drive attendance.
After receiving feedback from attendees and stakeholders via post-conference surveys and by word of mouth, I recognized it was time for some changes. Attendees commented that our registration process and the retrieval of conference materials were antiquated and cumbersome. For example, there is a link to register, a link to access our brochure, a link to surveys and the links go on and on. To address their needs, I started to think about how we could better streamline our processes and content. And then the idea came to me! Why not condense these links and all pertinent content into one easy, downloadable, app? Apps have infiltrated every part of our lives—checking email, making an airline reservation, depositing checks, listening to books, or calming ourselves at the end of a hectic day—and are serving the conference niche, too.
However, the following four questions came immediately to mind:
• How does one create an app?
• How much will it cost?
• How exactly can it streamline processes that meet the needs of all stakeholders?
• And if I want to move it forward, how do I get leadership buy-in?
Multi-function, customized, and brandable apps have been around in the meetings industry for a while, but since technology is not my area of expertise, I consulted my IT team. I learned from them that even the simplest app built from the ground up would be very costly, and so with many already on the market, we agreed that using an existing developer would be the best option.
My next step was to set up a call with an app developer that fit our budget and our needs. I wanted to be assured this would be the most cost-effective and best way to proceed, then I’d be ready to pitch it to my leadership to get their buy-in.
It wasn’t hard to build the case. Here are six highlights and benefits that helped to sway the final decision makers:
• Better basics
The app created a more seamless process for registering, accessing brochures, and responding to surveys. For attendees, faculty, and sponsors, the app provides an exceptional experience as a centralized place for conference information that’s user-friendly and promotes engagement. Also, with our faculty, physicians, and clinicians always on the go, they may not have regular access to a desktop computer, so the app gives them an easy way to register or view conference content.
• No download required
While our app can be downloaded from the App Store for Apple Users, on the Play Store for Android, there’s also a web-enabled mobile website for attendees who don’t want to download an app. Although new things can be uncomfortable for some, keep trying!
• Live polling
My programs are self-funded, so keeping costs down is critical. One cost-saving feature of the app is a built-in live-polling audience response system (ARS). This saves me over $30,000 annually, as I no longer have to outsource the ARS.
My organization has a green initiative, and the app aligns with our policy by helping to reduce our environmental footprint. We have traditionally printed out hundreds of hand-outs with lined pages for note-taking. The app allows attendees to take notes then email them to their inbox.
• Faculty information
Before, during, and after programs, we get asked for information about the conference faculty. With the app, we can upload bios and presentations—a convenience for attendees, and a time-saver for staff.
An exceptional feature of the app is the ability for attendees to opt-in to share their information. This allows for networking like never before: Attendees can private message one another, share photos, access social media, and more.
As we get ready to roll-out our app in the months ahead, follow me on Twitter @AMKarole for updates on how it’s working and new tips on planning. The app is changing for the better the way we deliver our educational programs and information to our attendees and all the stakeholders we serve. Ultimately, it allows me and my team to work smarter, not harder.
Arlene Marie Karole, CHCP, CMP, MSA, is director, Office of Academic Engagement, Education and Communication, Cardiology, at Northwell Health.