31 sessions all delivered virtually (due to COVID-19), 2,900 registrations and around 65 speakers covered almost every subject imaginable at this year’s Annual Conference, which ran until 17 July. Gwynne Lewis, CEO, IMarEST, shares some of his own highlights of what was a truly global event.
As the new CEO of IMarEST, what were the stand-outs from the Annual Conference?
Holding the Annual Conference virtually meant we have been able to reach a much larger audience than would ever have been possible with a ‘traditional’ event. This year, 2,900 people signed up from at least 77 countries – truly amazing.
There’s a massive appetite for informed debate and knowledge sharing about everything going on in the marine sector right now. Hosting an open-access event on this scale shows the Institute can deliver a breadth of content that is relevant to the wider marine community.
“Like the marine sector we represent, our membership is global.”
One insight I’m really pleased about is that the virtual format clearly appealed to a younger demographic, demonstrating their thirst for new knowledge as they embark on their careers.
But what most stood out for me was the member/non-member ratio, which was split, roughly, half and half. I really believe it reveals an untapped opportunity for membership growth.
By providing a glimpse into our activities, I hope many more people at every stage of their careers become members. We’ll all benefit, as will the marine sector as a whole.
Broadcasting online meant we have shared some fascinating conference sessions from global experts in their field with an internationally-diverse group of delegates able to choose what they wanted to join – when they wanted to.
In fact, one of our members from Bangladesh told me that, despite the time difference, he logged on for almost every session. This is brilliant because, like the marine sector we represent, our membership is global.
Making the most of technology has proved to be a fantastic way for members to learn about so many aspects of the marine sector. What do you plan to take forward in forthcoming events and other Institute activities?
Despite it happening in difficult times, the conference’s success has really opened our eyes to how technology can grow engagement. Like many other organisations, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the traditional approach to these events, and ask ourselves what a conference is really for?
Certainly, we will look to the virtual format in the future, not only for the Annual Conference but to help our local branches organise more events and support our SIGs to collaborate more effectively. And it will help us with our public outreach efforts.
However, remote access does have limitations. For all its benefits, virtual conferences lack the buzz of everyone meeting in one place, and the serendipity for chance work encounters and networking which are important in our multi-disciplinary marine sector.
There are, of course, many other ways technology can add value for our IMarEST membership, for example streamlining our core business. One area is clearing the occasional bottlenecks in holding professional review interviews (PRIs) for members applying for chartered status. Getting our mentoring scheme off the ground is another.
Its role in training and CPD is particularly interesting and relevant to the IMarEST mission to maintain and drive up levels of competence. Access to training is a balance between the skills acquired and cost, with the latter often weighed down by hotel and travel expenses. Eliminating many of those costs by migrating online provides clear benefits to employers and employees alike.
Catch up on any sessions you missed on IMarEST TV, via the conference app.
And, of course, here’s to 2021!
Gwynne Lewis is CEO of the IMarEST.