Whether you’ve taken your events completely virtual, you’re embracing the best of both worlds with hybrid, or you’re ready to get back in person, you know that event flexibility is essential. At a moment’s notice, event planners need to be able to transform their events into whichever format best suits their event needs. 

The Protein Society’s story is a great example of what it means to lean into event flexibility, learn along the way, and ultimately provide the best possible experience for attendees and sponsors alike. 

Keep reading to discover how The Protein Society events team successfully took their Annual Symposium to the virtual stage. 

About The Protein Society

The Protein Society (TPS) is a non-profit scholarly society that serves as the intellectual home of investigators across all disciplines — and from around the world — involved in the study of protein structure, function, and design. 

While for many of us protein conjures images of energy bars and the latest plant-based meat trend, protein scientists actually perform serious, life-saving work. In fact, both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 mRNA vaccines use proteins to create an immune response inside the body to protect against the deadly virus. The famed “spikey ball” that often appears in COVID-related imagery is a protein.

TPS provides forums for scientific collaboration and communication and supports professional growth of young investigators through workshops and networking opportunities by encouraging junior researchers to participate in the Annual Symposium.

About the Annual Symposium

The Protein Society’s Annual Symposium brings together a diverse mix of protein scientists and scholars for an in-person experience to share knowledge, network, and present poster abstracts, which are summaries of a presenters’ cutting-edge research. 

“Our attendees are literally Nobel Prize laureates, down to undergraduate students,” says Raluca Cadar, Executive Director of The Protein Society. “We’re dedicated to bringing the community together, so scientists can collaborate and share their research to accelerate the field.”

After canceling their 2020 symposium due to the pandemic, Cadar says it was starting to look like they might need to cancel their 2021 meeting unless they could find a way to convert the symposium to a virtual event. “We frantically began looking for a vendor to provide virtual support,” Cadar says. “It was intimidating. We were staring down at something we’ve never done before.” 

At the time, Cadar says, a colleague mentioned attending a major virtual conference and remembering how impressed she was with the event’s platform capabilities, production quality, and professional look. Cadar was pleasantly surprised to learn that she was familiar with the vendor, Webex Events (formerly Socio), –– in fact, TPS had previously used the Webex Events (formerly Socio) Mobile Event App for its 2019 in-person symposium — and loved it!

“It was really easy to use and easy to build,” Cadar says. “We have no IT team, but someone on my staff built it from A to Z with support from [Webex Events], and we were very proud of it.”

Considering her previous experience with Webex Events (formerly Socio), Cadar knew she’d found her virtual vendor. With little time to spare, Cadar jumped on a call with Webex Events and never looked back.

TPS Annual Symposium goes virtual

Webex Events (formerly Socio) overview page for The Protein Society's virtual event

With the stakes exceptionally high, and only a small staff for support, Cadar decided to take the reins and build the TPS event on Webex Events herself.

“I’m not an event planner — this is incredibly important — I’m an executive director who works in nonprofits,” she says. “I have no technical experience. I’ve never built something like this before.  But I found it incredibly easy to use. There were no headaches, roadblocks, or glitches.”

Cadar focused on building out the agendas, linking their live streams to each session, and ensuring the platform looked sleek and professional for their global attendees. The poster abstracts play a major part in any scientific symposium. It was important for Cadar to leverage technology that made it easy to display the posters virtually. With Webex Events, attendees could access the poster abstracts without ever leaving the platform. 

Cadar was pleased with how she could customize each feature and icon, notably adding the Protein Society’s specific brand colors to reflect their brand identity. “We deal with very high-end professionals, so colors are important,” she says. “I could put in the color codes for each item as I was designing, which meant they were all consistent. Everything was clean. It looked like we hired someone and paid a lot of money to do it.”

Support at a moment’s notice

One evening, Cadar says she was working late into the night, building out the symposium’s event experience when she realized she needed help. To her surprise, the Webex Events support team immediately responded to her questions.

“They helped me within minutes and they were always very pleasant,” she says. “They gave me links to some articles, which was helpful, but they also gave me the solution. Some vendors just say, ‘Hey, you need help? Here are six pages to read.’ But I really wanted an answer, and they gave it to me without pushing or asking twice. That’s very important.”

Early launch acclimates attendees to the event platform

After completing the initial build-out of The Protein Society’s event platform, Cadar proactively invited attendees to set up their profiles, connect with other attendees, build custom agendas, browse speaker and session info, and simply become familiar with the platform and various features.

Since the pivot to virtual and hybrid events, organizers have discovered that getting attendees to engage with event technology pre-event significantly cuts down on day-of technical difficulties, so attendees can hit the ground running.

“We opened the platform about three months before we launched the meeting, and that’s very important because it’s a pain for people to have to wake up in the morning and create an account,” Cadar says. 

She also liked the ability to set different features to public view or admin view, so her team could continue building new features behind the scenes, even while attendees actively engaged with the platform.

The Annual Symposium takes the virtual stage

After months of planning, The Protein Society event team kicked off the virtual Annual Symposium. The team designed six days of programming full of immersive presentations, networking opportunities, and high-visibility sponsor promotions. 

The Annual Symposium drew more than 700 registrants and featured 30+ sessions and about 500 poster presentations. The attendees represented 33 different countries, and Cadar says roughly 30% of all attendees were from outside of the U.S., a fact she attributes to hosting it in a virtual format. 

Ultimately, all of their planning and preparation paid off, and the event went off without a hitch. Cadar credits several Webex Events features with making her event a smashing success.

Webex Events (formerly Socio) agenda feature in The Protein Society's virtual event

For any event, the agenda drives the day. “Our agenda is incredibly important because we’re short on time and attention spans,” Cadar says. 

Referring to the Webex Events agenda as her “favorite feature,” Cadar says it was exceptionally easy to upload all of her speaker and session information. Even better, she could link each live stream directly to the agenda. 

“There was no confusion of what was happening or when. We included so much detail, we listed the speakers and their affiliations, talk titles, and photos — all you had to do was search for their name,” Cadar says. “It was so nicely laid out. The agenda feature is brilliant.”

Smart connections bring attendees together

The Webex Events smart connections feature plays the role of a networking matchmaker and takes virtual connection to the next level by suggesting connections to other attendees. Once an attendee sees a prompt, they simply tap an icon to instantly connect, then they can send direct messages, schedule meetings, and even use 1:1 video chat.

“I was happy [Webex Events] introduced this feature,” Cadar says. “It was so beneficial, and it was something our attendees loved. And when you’re talking about immersive event experiences, the Smart Connection feature really makes it feel like you’re not just sitting at your desk at home, you’re at an event making active connections.”

External linking powers poster presentations, pre-recorded videos

External linking powers poster presentations, pre-recorded videos

A key component of the Annual Symposium involves the poster presentations. The 2021 virtual event included more than 400 protein scientists who were eager to showcase their latest work. Cadar needed to use a specific platform for the symposium’s abstracts, and she initially worried about forcing attendees to navigate to a different platform. Fortunately, using the Webex Events external linking feature, she could connect each abstract so they opened seamlessly in Webex Events. 

“I really like the fact that I could link from the features directly to another website,” Cadar says. “We had to use a different platform for our abstracts, and it was very easy for attendees to access them within [Webex Events].”

Additionally, Cadar wanted to include some pre-recorded video presentations from YouTube. Using the same external linking feature, she could link each video to the agenda, so attendees only needed to tap an icon to view the video natively in their event platform.

Chat feature and event game drive session engagement, boosts fun

Since the symposium was entirely virtual, it was important for Cadar to provide a space for attendees to engage with presenters by asking questions during individual sessions. The Webex Events chat feature allowed attendees to do just that. The chat feature lives on the same screen as each live stream or session, so users can actively participate in the chat without navigating to another window. 

“We encourage and allow time for questions – and given that this was a scientific meeting, there were a lot of questions related to the presentations,” Cadar says. 

Including an event game is another highly effective way to drive attendee engagement – and can even spark some friendly competition. The Webex Events game feature allows event organizers to upload a list of challenges and corresponding codes. Attendees simply input the codes after completing a challenge to earn their points. In Cadar’s case, she used the Webex Events game feature to boost session attendance. 

“We’d drop in codes at the end of the session, but they had to stick around to the end. We also had Q&A sessions and trivia where they could earn points,” Cadar says. “Our attendees loved the game. We were very generous in the prizes, and I think that made a difference. But [Webex Events] gave us the tools to be able to deliver those prizes.” 

To incentivize attendee participation, The Protein Society offered cash, gift cards, and free registration to the next annual symposium to the top game winners.

“We expected some engagement, but it turns out that games drew huge interest and helped a lot to get sessions better attended,” Cadar says. 

Cadar says that she was initially unsure if the virtual networking aspect of the event would be well received, given that it can be difficult to replicate the in-person networking experience. Fortunately, the sharing of game codes during the networking sessions drew larger crowds and more interest overall. 

The game also helped The Protein Society interact with attendees on social media and create a “buzz” around the event. 

Sponsor sessions, virtual swag bags showcase sponsors in a major way

Sponsor sessions, virtual swag bags showcase sponsors in a major way

Cadar came up with innovative ways to show her Annual Symposium sponsors some love. Initially, she considered building a virtual exhibition hall but ultimately decided to make the sponsors part of the programming, which made their presentations feel more organic and boosted turnout.

“We gave them all their own [sessions],” Cadar says. “That way, they’re part of the programming, they’re listed in the agenda, and they get equal exposure. The fact that my sponsors had no problems accessing [Webex Events] and delivering their content was a big deal for me. It was a smooth process for my sponsors, and they were happy with the turnout.”

In fact, the event’s sponsored sessions drew a combined 450 participants, with an average of roughly 100 attendees per webinar.

The Symposium’s swag bag feature was another hit with their event sponsors. Again using the Webex Events external linking feature, sponsors could link to a promotional offer, landing page, video — literally anything of their choosing — so they open seamlessly in Webex Events.

“The swag bag is a way to give exposure to something that you care about, either for the organization, or that exhibitors want you to link to,” Cadar says. “It was comforting for our sponsors, and I think it was cool and innovative.” 

Live support provides a better user experience

Questions always come up at events, so The Protein Society team was happy to lean on the award-winning customer support team at Webex Events during the event. Attendees simply needed to tap the feature icon in the platform and type a question to receive an immediate response.

“The fact that we had a support staff, and people could submit questions and receive answers live was very nice to have,” Cadar says. “It’s just great customer service, as opposed to sending emails for support.”

Across the board, symposium feedback exceeds expectations

After wrapping up the Annual Symposium, Cadar says the feedback was extremely positive from her attendees, speakers, sponsors, and even her own team.

The feedback collected from the post-event survey was overwhelmingly positive, with 92% of attendees reporting that they were extremely satisfied or satisfied with the symposium. 

“We had one speaker who’s an award-winning, famous scientist, and she said we pulled off the best meeting she’s ever seen,” Cadar says. “And a lot of people said that to us,” she adds. “Because it was seamless, it was smooth and, what’s crazy about this is, I had the best experience, too. That’s the beauty of [Webex Events]. Both for the planners, and the attendees — we had attendees from 30-plus countries and different career levels, and they all thought it was very well-delivered. There were no glitches.”

Cadar’s advice for event planners searching for the right event tech

Cadar says the seamless experience and flawless execution made her a life-long Webex Events (formerly Socio) user, and she encourages other event organizers to give the platform a shot, even if they lack technological know-how.

“It delivers a highly professional and effective meeting and satisfies what the attendees are looking for. We had this question in our survey that asked ‘What did you like most about the meeting?’ Overwhelmingly, they said the platform. It was crickets when it came to any complaints about [Webex Events] or the platform.”

Ready to see how Webex Events (formerly Socio) powers phenomenal virtual, hybrid, and in-person experiences? Reach out today for a personalized demo.