What to do when your Seminar Room is dangerously full.
May 5, 2015
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In April 2015, innov8 Conference Services Ltd organised the 17th International ANCA and Vasculitis Workshop in the Business Design Centre in London. The event attracted over 600 of the leading medical specialists in ANCA and Vasculitis conditions, with over 45 different countries represented at the 4 day Conference.

As part of the scheduled programme, delegates were able to choose their preference of parallel sessions when the Workshop focused on particular individual areas of interest. The location of the seminar rooms was then chosen based on the most popular sessions getting the largest rooms.

During the final two days and also onsite, around 50 delegates registered to attend the Conference, meaning that the main meeting room would be at maximum capacity during the main sessions and also all the parallel sessions would also be full during these sessions. On the first morning it became clear that the parallel sessions occupying were having more delegates attending the session than was originally anticipated.

“An over-capacity seminar room is a safety issue that all event organisers should take seriously”

This meant there was only standing room in the parallel session room on the first sessions and with the movement between talks delegates would soon struggle to get comfortable in the session rooms. The final parrallel session room was not completely full, but it became clear that the room was only another 5-10 people away from being above its complete capacity.

Some people may ask, what’s wrong with this , the Conference room is full and the speaker has a full crowd which is what most speakers like to see at their talk. However there are a number of issues with having a meeting room close to, or over its capacity:

  1. Fire Risk – If delegates cannot quickly and safely evacuate the meeting room in the event of an emergency then there is a serious risk of injury and therefore as an event organiser you are placing peoples lives at risk. It may sound dramatic but an event organiser is responsible for the safety of their delegates during a Conference.
  2. Comfort – Some parallel sessions can last upto an hour and a half, in a packed programme to spend several hours stood up at the rear of a Conference room is not comfortable and is also restrictive to delegates who may have access requirements.
  3. Restricted Question and Answer Sessions – Have you ever tried to move a microphone through a crowded group of people, often delegates will then resort to not using a microphone which then results in some delegates not hearing the question. It also restricts some delegates from asking a question as they may feel they cannot be heard, therefore they may not ask a question they would have normally asked.
  4. Learning Environment – Delegates have travelled from around the world to learn from their peers, and to discuss the latest research. Standing in a packed seminar room is not the best environment to absorb this information. Delegates need to be comfortable, able to take notes and to be in an environment to absorb the information to get full use of the sessions.

Then comes the question of what can you do, how quickly can you do it and what is the cost implication to the Conference. At the ANCA and Vasculitis Workshop, there were three options available to ourselves to present to the scientific committee to ensure the event continued to go smoothly. Normally there are three options open to an organiser:

  • Restrict access to the Parallel room using the stewards, when the room is full then it is full and delegates may need to find an alternative session.
  • Move the sessions to a larger meeting room in the venue, or swop with a different parallel session.
  • Stream the complete the parallel session into another meeting room using video and sound footage to create an overflow room.

Option 1 was not available, as delegates needed to be able to access all the seminars and there needed to be no restriction on the discussions. Option 2 was also not available as all the larger meeting rooms were already in use and the other parallel sessions were also busy however not to the same extent as the final meeting room.

This left option 3, to stream the entire session into an adjoining meeting incase the parallel session did continue to attract more delegates than originally anticipated. Therefore in the next two hours, innov8’s video production team which were already onsite capturing the event, worked with the inhouse Audio Visual team to mount a camera in the Parallel session room which would stream the speaking presenting their research, the slideshow and the Chair’s discussion. The sound was also streamed through to the adjoining meeting room straight from the mixing desk in the room to ensure delegates would receive the same high quality education as those in the meeting room.

“In just Two Hours innov8 had managed to create and test the live-streaming into an overflow meeting room and resolve a safety issue before it had even happened”

Whilst streaming a session is not the best solution (we would always aim to have all delegates in the meeting room) on this occasion it did ensure that when the parallel session became even busier on day two, delegates were able to be comfortable, safe and in a better learning environment than if we had done nothing.

Some points to note, if you ever need to stream a Seminar as an overflow room:

  • Make sure you have plenty of signage, remember there may be a crowd therefore delegates may struggle to see the sign if there is only one or two.
  • To facilitate questions, have a helper in the room where it is being streamed to collect questions (on pre-prepared question sheets) to hand to the Chair in the session room to read out when applicable.
  • Ensure that anyone who asks a question, or makes a comment in the main meeting room does so on microphone. Otherwise delegates in the other meeting room will not hear what is said.
  • Test, test and test again the quality of the sound and video using real presentations to ensure that the feeds are providing a high quality experience to delegates in the overflow meeting room.