March 24th, 2012
Whither Conferences? Searching for the South by Southwest Passage
Several Cardiology Fellows who are attending ACC.12 this week are blogging together on CardioExchange. The Fellows include Tariq Ahmad, Bill Cornwell, Megan Coylewright, Jeremiah Depta, and John Ryan (moderator). Read the previous post here. Read the next post here.
Attendance to cardiology conferences is in decline. It is an obvious fact observed by the decreasing numbers of attendees in the halls walking between sessions, and perhaps more tellingly by the decreased number of companies willing to send exhibitors to the ACC and AHA to promote their products.
There are a variety of reasons given for this, the most popular one being that the poor economy is effecting both academic institutions and private practitioners. People also argue that there are simply too many meetings these days, especially as the field has become more subspecialized. Finally, the immediate digital availability of these conferences. A snapshot of my Twitter feed from an hour ago demonstrates that you can get a pretty good idea about the results being presented in real time:
However, I think these common conceptions are inaccurate and misleading I have another theory.
These common concerns could equally be applied to other conferences. However, Comic Con in San Diego continues to attract 130,000 attendees every year for four days of TV, science fiction and comic book discussions. Similarly, the South by South West Festival continues to grow every year, with attendance reaching 20,000 this past year a 100% increase from 4 years ago. Think that these pop culture comparisons aren’t fair? Fine, take the HIMSS conference focused on health care informatics held in Las Vegas just over a month ago: it surpassed expected attendance by 5,000, drawing 37,000 in all.
The audiences of these events aren’t immune to downturns in the economy, they have plenty of gatherings large and small to choose from, and they are at least as digitally savvy as cardiologists. These conferences clearly are providing an in-person experience that cardiology conferences are not, as manifest by their growth in numbers and our decline. I think the simplest reason that conference attendance at ACC and AHA is decreasing is because people are not getting enough out of it. The design and content has not evolved since the hay-day of 30,000-plus attendees. What worked before—such as the unveiling of clinical trials and vibrant exhibition halls—simply does not attract people anymore. In my opinion, the common thread contributing to the current growth in the events like South by Southwest is the focus on user-generated content and the fact that the attendees feel themselves to be a part of the conferences, not just seat fillers.
The organizers of the ACC, the AHA probably only have a few years to figure out how how to generate this sense of ownership.
How can this best be achieved?
Is it by increasing the number of abstracts accepted? Or does the manner in which the landmark trials are presented need to be changed? Our field needs your ideas, so please share them.