WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
Put Meetings in the
Palm of Your Hand
BY MARILYN RUTKOWSKI
Held in May 2010, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons’ 78th
Annual Meeting at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Convention Center was the first
medical meeting in North America to
deliver its content paperless via Apple’s
The idea began with a suggestion from
a member neurosurgeon, who’d seen
iPods used effectively at another meeting. AANS agreed: Because it was mobile,
interactive and familiar to attendees, the
iPod touch was a good platform for delivering content. So good, in fact, that AANS
decided to test-drive the device by giving
one that was pre-loaded with content to
each of its approximately 3,500 annual
meeting attendees — even though the
meeting was only 49 weeks away.
Pre-Loaded With Success
AANS worked with a developer to design
a customized mobile application to
update its meeting program on the fly.
If a session time changed, for instance,
AANS could use the app to update the
program, as well as the personal schedules of attendees. The app also allowed
attendees to communicate with one
another using a social networking and
messaging feature, and to design their
own conference schedules using an interactive search tool that helped them find
breakfast seminars, practical clinics, oral
presentations and more.
Apple’s portable media player, personal digital assistant and Wi-Fi mobile
platform was integrated with every aspect
of AANS' meeting, from scientific education to social events, plenary lectures,
seminars and exhibitions. Among the
favorite features were electronic posters
that attendees could review at their convenience, then take back to the office to
share with their colleagues.
Members also could use their iPods
to access AANS products, including an
AANS clinical guidelines summary, as
well as maps of the convention center,
including the exhibit hall and individual
In addition to its custom annual meeting app, AANS pre-loaded each of the
iPods it gave to attendees with a welcome
video from AANS President Troy M. Tippett, M.D., FACS; audio podcasts featuring seven masters in neurosurgery; seven
educational video presentations; and
Open Table, a popular third-party app that
attendees could use to search for Philadelphia restaurants.
Attendees could use the device not
only for live and virtual networking, but
also for participating in audience feedback activities during education sessions.
“[The iPod touch] was a huge hit for
the 3,383 medical attendees, from the
techno savvy medical students to veteran
neurosurgeons unaccustomed to using
such devices,” says AANS Executive Direc-
tor Thomas A. Marshall. “The cool factor
wasn’t lost on them.”
Exhibitors were equally enthusiastic,
as the customized iPod touch platform
enabled them to change their usual pro-
motional door drops to purchased e-mes-
sages. According to AANS, 40 messages
with company banners were sent out over
four days. While most messages were
sent to all medical attendees, there was
the potential to target nearly 50 different
groups based on registration and subspe-
cialty categories. In addition, sponsors
purchased full-screen and banner ads that
rotated on attendees’ devices.
Despite its success, AANS’ first paperless
meeting wasn’t without a few glitches.
“Part of the success of this meeting
is attributed to the exhaustive technical
preparation,” says AANS Deputy Executive
Director Ronald W. Engelbreit, the iPod
touch project leader. “Being the first time
out, there was naturally a learning curve.
Among the challenges were figuring out
with the developer how all the technical
elements of a complex, customized app
would work, advanced coordination and
onsite visits with the convention center
to ensure that the facility could accom-
modate bandwidth, and the creation and
download of the impressive amount of
content onto 3,500 devices. We were for-
tunate; the Pennsylvania Convention Cen-
ter was outstanding to work with."
Because its first run was such a success,
AANS is bringing the iPod touch back for
round two at its 79th Annual Meeting in
Denver, scheduled for April 9 – 13, 2011.
And when it does, it will include more
bells and whistles in response to post-conference feedback from members.
One of the new features this year will
allow attendees to use their iPods to take
notes. Others, meanwhile, will allow them
to use the device to take the post-confer-ence survey and participate more actively
in education sessions. AANS also expects
to further extend the reach of its meeting
with podcasts and a video series.
Marilyn Rutkowski is an independent marketing
consultant and may be reached at mmrrutkowski@