International Virtual Conference
How do you focus on ending one epidemic while another sweeps across the globe?
This was the question that confronted the IAS—the International AIDS Society—the biggest association of global HIV professionals, as they prepared to host AIDS 2020, the world’s largest conference on HIV.
The organization’s 30+ year old hallmark event, which one commentator described as “the Woodstock of science gatherings,” hosts round about 15,000 participants from all around the world, every two years.
Yet it was in jeopardy as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of large public gatherings. The theme was Resilience, which could not have been more relevant. Staring in the face of a global pandemic that mirrors the challenges faced by HIV communities – fear, risk, stigma, and loss – it was crucial that the conference move forward even though the world had shut down.
What started as a simple exploration to turn a live event digital, transformed into a discovery mission—an opportunity for the IAS to rethink, reinvent and recast how its 2020 experience would look. AIDS 2020: Virtual was born.
Together, we conceptualized and produced the Opening, Closing and all of the Prime Sessions featuring important speakers located across globe into a seamless, sparkling virtual experience. Over the course of 9 weeks, we collaborated to ensure that, content, available to global audiences 24 hours a day, for five days, met the highest standards.
Through a compelling combination of virtual sessions and community networking, we designed a cohesive and engaging story that would draw in attendees and keep them enthralled. Working with leading experts in science, policy and research and dozens of presenters from around the world, we staged, captured, designed, produced and edited over 20 high-profile content segments with a custom look and feel that complimented the conference’s theme of Resilience.
We designed each experience to be a polished, professional broadcast production. The experience included segments such as the On the Red Sofa series, which featured leading voices in the HIV response such as Sir Elton John, David Furnish and U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Special sessions on hot topics, such as COVID-19, vaccine and cure research, global policy, women’s resilience, activism and more featured Dr. Anthony Fauci, UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Lucy Wanjiku Njenga of Kenya’s Positive You Woman’s Voices. And to cap off the week, the Closing session featured an entertaining performance of “This is Me” by Africaid Zvandiri and a photo montage of those watching from home all around the world.
Thousands of attendees registered, logged on and stayed engaged. Some of the segments boasted thousands of participants concurrently. Many commented on the IAS’s ability to retain the community feel, even though people were separated by geographical boundaries and time zones. Everyone felt energized, educated and ready to make history advancing the HIV response, and the IAS was able to accomplish everything they set out to do in a virtual environment.
As U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee stated during the kick-off, “The organizers and people around the world are really being creative on how to use technology to bring us all together. It’s so important to be creative in this moment because that is what the response to HIV has been.”