Attending Annual Conference and Exhibition for the first time, virtually too

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28 October 2020

Kofi Mensah-Ansong
Media and Communications Officer
NHS Providers


There was no better time to join NHS Providers than in the short lead up to its annual conference and exhibition (ACE). Having heard it spoken about with so much enthusiasm and excitement in my first weeks of joining, my curiosity and eagerness to experience my very first ACE were high. Most notably, I quickly began to realise that although this was due to be my first annual event, I was on a level playing field with everyone else in the organisation – we were all about to embark on our very first virtual conference. We were all experiencing the anticipation of what a virtual ACE was going to be like and whether it would prove just as successful, engaging and thoroughly informative as previous years. It did not disappoint.

Travelling to an event, booking hotels, having face-to-face interactions are all things that can add to the feel of a big national event, however this year has been a year like no other. The pandemic had led to fears that our conference may not have happened this year, however determination, innovation, hard work and positive spirits were all the ingredients I witnessed in what made our first virtual ACE a success. Credit to Glasgows and our graphic designer, Jim Friedman, who were responsible for our easy-to-navigate digital ACE platform. I particularly liked the 'event floorplan' within the site which still gave the feeling of being present at a venue. Our digital platform had an exhibition area, plenary rooms, and session rooms much like our other conferences. It even had a passport control area (designed to incentivise people to engage with exhibitors and sponsors), replicating what it would be like upon arriving at an event face-to-face.

Much of the experience of ACE was owed to the passionate enthusiastic speeches from our 85 speakers during the course of the conference.

Kofi Mensah-Ansong    Media and Communications Officer

With 920 people attending ACE this year – I believe the largest number of attendees to date – there was still a sense of genuine involvement despite us not being physically present. Much of the experience of ACE was owed to the passionate enthusiastic speeches from our 85 speakers during the course of the conference, including our chief executive Chris Hopson who kick started the event with vigour and clarity, setting the tone from day one. There were a number of enthralling and informative sessions, some of which provoked personal reflection, particularly John Amaechi OBE's session on inclusive leadership. I was struck by his direct, transparent and poignant approach as he spoke candidly about what still needs to be done to progress in this area.

I asked my colleague Bethan what her highlight of the conference was and she said: "What's great about our annual conference and exhibition is the high calibre of people that attend it. Everyone attending genuinely cares about the health service and crucially, they want to share and learn how they can positively contribute to not just patient and service users’ care and experiences, but that of the communities they serve and supporting their workforces."

This year’s theme was on reflection and recovery, with emphasis on supporting our members following the first wave of the pandemic.

Kofi Mensah-Ansong    Media and Communications Officer

The ACE programme consisted of both the plenaries and breakout sessions which focused on a wide range of topics that all have pressing importance in the running and culture of the NHS. This year's theme was on reflection and recovery, with emphasis on supporting our members following the first wave of the pandemic. Many of our sessions featured Q&As, which due to the virtual nature of our conference gave delegates the opportunity to ask questions anonymously– encouraging more freedom for delegates to ask questions.

Alongside various speakers from trusts, we also heard from NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, chief people officer from NHS Improvement Prerana Issar, chief operating officer from NHS England and NHS Improvement Amanda Pritchard, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock and the aforementioned John Amaechi amongst others. Safe to say it was a jam-packed event.

The beauty of ACE is that there was more to it than just listening to insightful speeches. There was a social wall where delegates could share and interact with one another. We also had an exhibition and Providers deliver live, both showcasing the work of our partners and the amazing innovations from our members. I watched my comms team colleagues Emma Sharpe and Ellie Gomes cover much of the groundwork for Providers deliver live and asked Ellie how she found the experience this time around. She said: "It was great to be a part of Providers deliver live which showcased some of the incredible ways trusts have adapted and innovated during the COVID-19 pandemic. As it was virtual this year, it meant that we could have more trusts exhibiting which was an excellent perk."

While we all navigate the constraints of living in a pandemic, our virtual conference proved it is possible to still host great events and be as equally involved from the comfort of your own home.

Kofi Mensah-Ansong    Media and Communications Officer

My observation when speaking with colleagues about their previous experiences was that this year’s virtual conference and exhibition gave room for more: more delegates, more exhibitors, more speakers and more flexibility. It was informative, creative and interactive, like having an at home cinema experience instead of going to the theatre. While we all navigate the constraints of living in a pandemic, our virtual conference proved it is possible to still host great events and be as equally involved from the comfort of your own home.

Next year's annual conference and exhibition is already scheduled in our diaries 16-17 November in Liverpool. Be sure to save the date in your diary and join me for my next experience of ACE.

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Kofi Mensah-Ansong
Media and Communications Officer

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