In response to COVID 19 lockdown restrictions, and within in a six-week timeframe, we devised and delivered a 6-day, 25 session, highly successful virtual programme for Shine Cancer Support’s flagship conference, Shine Connect.
Shine Cancer Support is the UK’s only non-profit dedicated to building a supportive, empowered, community of people in their twenties, thirties and forties living with a cancer diagnosis.
We have delivered Shine Connect, the charity’s annual one day conference, since the inaugural conference in 2016. It is open to any young adult with cancer plus their family or partner, carers and healthcare professionals. Participants are given a unique chance to meet and talk candidly with their peers about life, cancer and everything in between, hear informative talks from cancer experts, take part in workshops, and experience supportive therapies. We have evolved and enhanced this face-to-face event every year since and it is perennially over-subscribed and well received by participants.
In 2020, COVID-19 and associated lockdown forced the postponement of Shine Connect, normally held in May, until November. However, as the pandemic continued - and with many of Shine’s community immuno-compromised and in strong need of connection and support - it was necessary to pivot to a virtual event with just six weeks in which to conceive, plan and execute it.
Unconstrained by venue capacity or time limits of an in-person event, we worked with Shine to expand the breadth and reach of Shine Connect. An ambitious programme was devised to deliver 25 unique sessions over six days rather than a single day, giving participants the flexibility to create their own agenda and avoid “screen fatigue”.
Speaker and panel discussion topics ranged from exercise, sex, dating, menopause and parenting after cancer, to getting travel insurance, supporting men’s mental health, managing brain fog and the unique challenges of LGBTQ+ cancer patients. There was also a dedicated session for ‘plus ones’ (partners or family members) on supporting a loved one through cancer. An enlightening, entertaining live keynote webinar, ‘Making sense of statistics’, was delivered by Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk.
To recreate the fun, hands-on, sociable elements of the live programme, interactive virtual workshops, led by travel, exercise, art and hair experts were available to participants. Virtual meet ups over a glass of wine or cup of tea were also encouraged – all pets welcome!
These reimagined sessions were carefully designed to ensure any materials needed (stationery, craft supplies, comfortable clothing, beverages) could be easily and affordably sourced by participants in advance, and activities would be practical in a limited space at home.
Activating The Experience
Cvent’s industry-leading CrowdCompass OEG platform was used by us to deliver a seamless, branded experience. The platform provided the stability and scalability to meet open-ended demand, supporting Shine’s aspiration to increase audience reach.
We created a dedicated registration website, fully integrated with the platform to provide a unified user experience. Once registered, participants could customise their own agenda by browsing individual sessions from the full listing and adding the session to their schedule with one click.
To encourage networking, attendees could connect in advance through messaging functionality and build their own contacts list. An activity feed provided an area for group discussions, while an embedded Twitter social wall allowed participants to view updates across the week under the #ShineConnect hashtag. Automated notifications provided contextual messages, announcements and links to supplementary resources throughout the programme. The platform additionally housed speaker biographies and photos, dynamic surveys to capture participant feedback, and a helpdesk function to manage queries and requests for assistance.
Embedded videos within the agenda sessions enabled the delivery of a blend of high quality live, simulive and on-demand content. Pre-recorded content reduced the pressure on speakers, resulting in enhanced production values and avoiding potential technical hitches during the live programme execution. Real-time video Q&A sessions were enabled after each presentation via virtual break-out rooms, moderated by a member of the Shine team, allowing groups of participants to pose questions to the speaker and chat freely about their experiences with full confidence that these sensitive discussions would remain private.
We uploaded pre-recorded, edited video to Shine’s dedicated YouTube channel as ‘Premieres’ with a set airtime, creating buzz and giving viewers a shared experience via a ‘watch page’.
Shine’s ambition for the virtual conference was to maintain the life-affirming spirit of the in-person format – balancing expert talks with fun activities and opportunities for participants to make new friends, share experiences and support one another.
Extending the event over six days, gave participants the flexibility to join a wide variety of sessions relevant to them from the wide programme. The on-demand element extended this flexibility and broadened the reach of the crucial content and legacy of the event.
While the conference is normally limited to 150 participants, Shine Connect Virtual attracted 260 registrations (total number of unique users was 312), and adoption was a very healthy 88.5%. 80% of participants rated the virtual event as ‘Fantastic’ and 15% ‘Good.’ 5% thought it ‘Could be better’, although qualitative feedback revealed this was due to a strong preference for face-to-face events among these participants.
“We have just finished the final session and we wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone at TTA for all of your help and support over the past few weeks. We've had amazing feedback, with people really enjoying the sessions and also saying how slick and professional the platform is. We love you guys! You've been amazing and we're so grateful for the support.”
Ceinwen Giles, Co-Founder, Shine Cancer Support