Though many states in the US are beginning to relax restrictions related to COVID-19, it is still unclear whether many annual radiology conferences will be held in person in 2021. Some upcoming conferences, such as AUR 2021 and ASNR 2021, will still be entirely virtual, although RSNA 2021 is set to be held in person in November. The MarkeTech Group recently surveyed our imagePRO panel to gauge their opinions on virtual radiology conferences and trade shows in 2021.

Respondents are unlikely to attend virtual trade shows in 2021 

When asked whether they would be likely to attend virtual trade shows in 2021, a whopping 69% stated that they were not at all or somewhat likely to attend; only 13% reported that they would be very or extremely likely to attend. These results are corroborated by virtual attendance trends from 2020, in which RSNA attendance was slightly over half of what was expected.

Shifting from a virtual to an in-person format would drive attendance

Imaging professionals appear to find more value in live, in-person events than in virtual events. 62% agreed that they would be more likely to attend trade shows if they were to revert to an in-person format (assuming equal registration fees); however, 23% disagreed, indicating that they would not be more likely to attend in-person trade shows.

While optimism appears to be slowly rising as vaccines are distributed more widely, the 23% figure indicates that a significant portion of respondents may still be uncomfortable attending live gatherings as of now. Perhaps because of this, RSNA has shifted to a hybrid format which gives attendees the option to attend either in-person or online. Other benefits, such as lowered stress lowered stress, may also drive some to opt for online attendance.

Vendor offerings and technical exhibits are the most commonly expected benefit of trade shows

We asked respondents what benefit they most expected from trade shows in 2021, and 42% said learning about vendor offers and technical exhibits, making it the most commonly expected benefit. This explains the desire to move back to an in-person format—not only do virtual technical exhibits prevent attendees from experiencing live, hands-on product demos, but the number of technical exhibits at RSNA 2020 was only about 235, compared to 740 at RSNA 2019.

An additional 18% reported networking and meeting colleagues as the most expected benefit of attending trade shows. This, too, offers some insights into why attendees prefer an in-person format, as networking opportunities (such as breakout groups) tend to be more scarce and less intimate in a virtual setting.

What lies beyond 2021?

Though COVID-19 may have revealed some opportunities to move to a virtual platform, such as an increase in tele-medicine, trade shows do not appear to be among those opportunities. Generally, attendees appear eager to get back to live, in-person events. Moving forward, however, we may see more virtual attendance options for those who choose not to attend in person. Which format do you prefer? Let’s continue the conversation about how to plan for conferences and tradeshows in 2021!