We would like to introduce Martina, who celebrated her twentieth anniversary with Congrex in January this year.
What is your position at Congrex and what activities are you responsible for?
Twenty years ago, when my two daughters were still quite small, I started with Congrex (which at that time was known as AKM) working part-time in participant registration. Within a few years, this part-time position grew and grew until it became a full-time career. Since January 2018, I have been in charge of the registration department working with an outstanding team of people. Furthermore, I am part of the management team.
The registration department takes care of all the participants’ needs and therefore we have a lot of customer contact. Participant support starts with the online registration; we help with any questions or problems they may have, create invitation letters and run the congress secretariat at the respective congress location, where we are responsible for handing out the congress documents, among other tasks. We are also there for the participants after the congress, sending out certificates or invoices.
We organise about forty congresses per year, each with between a hundred and twenty-thousand participants, in Switzerland, Europe and sometimes worldwide. I enjoy my work very much because this job is extremely varied, and therefore it is never boring.
We help and support each other at all times and have a lot of fun – the team spirit is very important to us
The registration team is very well-functioning; we help and support each other at all times and have a lot of fun – the team spirit is very important to us. It is always great to see the result and the satisfied participants at the congress when you’ve invested a lot of time and energy beforehand. The combination of working in the office and then finishing off with the work during the congress at the respective congress venue is just perfect.
As Head of Registration, I am still involved in this work, but my responsibilities have also evolved. I now do a lot of staff planning for congresses, lead the registration team, take charge of projects and deal with clients and customers.
The latest trends are taken into account and programming is commissioned, to add features like a single log-in function, so that participants can use the same log-in for abstract submission, registration and hotel room booking.
I have also been very busy improving our registration system to make sure it fits our ever-changing needs. The latest trends are taken into account and programming is commissioned, to add features like a single log-in function, so that participants can use the same log-in for abstract submission, registration and hotel room booking. This ensures participants don’t waste time or effort to access their documents quickly and comfortably on site. For this reason, we also plan to incorporate facial recognition in the near future.
What are the biggest challenges right now in participant registration for congresses?
Due to Covid-19, everything has changed in the past year. From one day to the other, almost every congress has been cancelled, postponed or converted into a virtual event, which unfortunately meant that all our on-site congress assignments were no longer required. As a result, we had to make thousands of refunds in spring and summer to reimburse congress fees to the participants.
Due to Covid-19, everything has changed in the past year.
At virtual congresses, there is also participant registration, but contact with participants here is limited to email and telephone. The work prior to the congress is relatively similar and on the “live days” of the virtual event we now support participants by responding to questions and problems via a hot-line, and this means unfortunately that personal contact isn’t the same. Many tasks such as planning the congress secretariat, preparing for the distribution of congress documents or planning the transport of materials have been completely eliminated, but there are of course new challenges. A new task is now to link the registration system with the virtual platform and to set up access to the individual sessions correctly. One challenge for us is the short term booking behaviour of participants, which has increased due to Covid-19. This sometimes leads to an enormous rush of activity shortly before the start of a congress.
We anticipate that hybrid congresses will most likely predominate in the future.
Participants are eager for physical congresses to resume but have also become accustomed to virtual events and the benefits they offer so that even when physical events again become possible, we anticipate that hybrid congresses, (a mix of both types) will most likely predominate in the future.
You recently completed further training as a hygiene and infection control officer. What motivated you to do this and what did you learn?
As hygiene protection measures are required everywhere due to Covid-19, this has become an important issue and influences my daily work. I, therefore, completed a training course to become a hygiene and infection protection officer for events and dispatch facilities, certified by the TÜV. We were taught the legal basics for the Infection Protection Act as well as occupational health and safety measures and regulations. We learned how to create a hygiene concept for events, e.g. congresses, and how to implement it on site. It looks like Covid-19 will be with us for a while, so the hygiene concept will be an important part of congress preparation for the foreseeable future and a supplement to my previous work.
Tell us about the most exciting, fun or challenging congress experience you’ve had during your time at Congrex.
I made many on-site congress experiences and know almost all the congress venues in Europe, but nevertheless, every event is different and also special, and there are so many stories, I think I could almost write a book about it.
There are so many stories, I think I could almost write a book about it.
There are always extreme challenges that have to be mastered and cannot be predicted. For example, we had a volcano erupt shortly before a congress, which disrupted all air routes across Europe. We experienced a public transport strike in the city where the congress was taking place; a bomb threat; a complete internet failure on the first day of a congress and a total power failure in the congress building. So it never gets boring and you have to be ready to react quickly to an unforeseen problem and have a ‘plan B’ in place that can be applied immediately.
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark visited us at a congress in Copenhagen. These were memorable and impressive moments.
Of course, among the challenging situations, there are also many rewarding and exciting congress experiences. These definitely include the celebrities we have been lucky enough to have at various congresses. One that stands out, for example, is a congress in Washington D.C. where Elton John and President Clinton made an appearance or a congress in Holland where Queen Maxima spoke at the opening. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark visited us at a congress in Copenhagen. These were memorable and impressive moments, but also required a lot of organisation due to the extra safety precautions.
Funny experiences also happen. Once, when we had a medical congress in Leipzig, there was a trade fair for meat wholesalers held in the same building at the same time. Unfortunately, many participants got confused and came to our secretariat to register for the meat trade fair. At a congress in London, there was a ‘Super-Comic Fair’ held at the same time. It’s hard to describe the bizarre costumes worn by some of the people attending this event.