Uniting an empowered community at Shine Connect 2021

Cancer is a club that nobody wants to join, but we always aspire to make the Shine Connect annual conference for young adults with cancer fun, inspiring, engaging, educational and life-affirming, and help combat isolation by bringing together an empowered community online.

The Brief

Shine Cancer Support is the UK’s only non-profit dedicated to building an empowered, supportive community of people in their twenties, thirties and forties living with a cancer diagnosis. Since 2015, TTA and Shine have collaborated annually to deliver ‘Shine Connect’, a life-affirming, national, one-day conference in London open to any young adult with cancer and their family or partner, carers (“Plus Ones”) and healthcare professionals. It’s an opportunity for beneficiaries to meet their peers, share experiences, hear from cancer experts and learn more about important, rarely-discussed topics.

In 2020, the pandemic prompted us to adapt Shine Connect for online delivery; we devised an ambitious virtual programme, expanded across six days, that almost doubled the conference’s audience reach and gave participants the flexibility to personalise their own agenda.

By 2021, despite the lifting of lockdown, 70% of Shine’s clinically vulnerable community (including staff) were still advised to shield. But after 18 months of interacting with the outside world through screens, interest in online experiences was waning, prompting other cancer charities to cancel virtual events. We were determined to produce an outstanding conference that people would feel compelled to attend.

The TTA Experience

We involved patients across the design and development of the six-day programme, creating 23 manageable one-hour sessions around the topics that mattered most to them. Shine strives to represent diverse backgrounds and make our services open to all, so we were particularly happy to be able to offer content rarely covered elsewhere by mainstream cancer charities, including the unique cancer challenges for young ethnic minorities, making the cancer experience more queer-inclusive, how to have a good death as a younger adult, and navigating sex after a cancer diagnosis. Complementing the structured presentations was a popular live gaming session and breathwork, poetry and dance workshops, plus an informal Saturday meet-up.

We delivered an enterprise-grade, branded experience using the Cvent CrowdCompass OEG platform, which integrated conference registration, social media and access to sessions, and captured video content via StreamYard. By blending live streaming and pre-recorded content with real-time video Q&A sessions in private virtual breakout rooms, we were able to balance flawless technical delivery with organic human interaction – vital for beneficiaries who were emotionally isolated.

We intentionally prioritised conversations within the sessions over digital networking in order to encourage participants to get to know each other and benefit from peer support.  However, the companion app enabled attendees to connect in advance, follow #ShineConnect via the social wall, receive push notifications, access information and resources, and respond to participant surveys. We also uploaded pre-recorded videos to Shine’s dedicated YouTube channel as ‘Premieres’ with a set air time, creating buzz and giving viewers a shared experience via a ‘watch page’.

Without the overheads of a physical venue or catering, we were able to maintain last year’s precedent of free admission, making the conference accessible to all.

We successfully mitigated fatigue by capping sessions at one hour’s duration, with 20 minute presentations followed by 40 minute Q&As devoted to valuable, open discussion. We were particularly proud that 83% of the sessions were patient-led – bringing lived experience to the discussions which were frank, sensitive, yet often surprisingly funny and life-affirming, proving that great peer support is possible online.

The Outcome

Conference registrations totalled 346 participants – a 10.5% uplift on 2020 – comprising 231 beneficiaries, 41 “Plus Ones” and 30 healthcare providers, with a conversion rate of 68%. validating our conviction that quality online experiences can be a lifeline for those who can’t attend in-person events due to distance or health issues.

A significant barrier to young adults accessing the right services is a lack of understanding of their needs among healthcare providers. HCPs’ participation reported their participation in the conference as valuable in helping them manage difficult conversations and feeling better equipped to support their young patients.

In total, 75% of participants rated the conference as “fantastic” with the remaining 25% stating that it was “good”, and a resounding 100% said that they would attend again. Participants could access recordings of sessions that they had been unable to attend live, and year-round availability of on-demand video resources via Shine’s YouTube channel will create long-tail value both for the charity and its beneficiaries.

As Ceinwen Giles, Shine’s joint CEO, observes, “There’s a painful side-effect of cancer that’s rarely spoken about – loneliness – and the pandemic has exacerbated emotional isolation. So it was more important than ever to sustain delivery of the engaging educational content, sense of community and power of live connection Shine Connect has come to be known and valued for.”

“TTA’s technical expertise resulted in a seamless experience that allowed everyone – myself included – to focus on the content and the company. The platform enabled people to organise their sessions and access all the information and resources in one place. The ability to connect with one another in advance through the app paved the way for big conversations during the Zoom sessions. People were clamouring for access to the on-demand videos straight after the sessions, and TTA did an amazing job of editing and uploading the content within 24 hours!”

"Cancer is a club that nobody wants to join, but we always aspire to make this event as fun and engaging as it can be, given the subject matter. Shine Connect started as a one-day in-person conference and TTA have helped us evolve it into a six-day virtual festival of topics and ideas!"
Ceinwen Giles, Co-CEO, Shine Cancer Support