PSIvet Business Symposium: Worth the Risk


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Producing a live-streamed Business Symposium wasn’t easy, but PSIvet event organizers said the payoff for members was worth it.

PSIvet had always planned to add a digital component to its business meetings in the future. COVID just accelerated those plans as the member-driven organization shifted its 2021 Business Symposium to a virtual format this fall.

The challenge for event organizers: How could they maintain the key ingredients of CE credits and practice-building presentations within an online framework?

“It’s called a Business Symposium for a very good reason,” said Jim Ladd, vice president of marketing. “All the content is focused around providing business strategies that a veterinary practice can take back and implement in the hopes of staying independent. With corporate consolidators coming in, and the competition getting stronger and stronger, we feel that we need to provide our membership with cutting-edge strategies, technologies, and services so they can compete.”

The Symposium planners researched Zoom meetings and other online conferences being promoted but didn’t think those formats fit with what they wanted to accomplish. Instead, they opted for a live streaming event. PSIvet flew in all the speakers except keynote Andy Roark, DVM, to Denver, Colorado for the three-day event. While Roark could not travel, PSIvet sent a camera crew to his home and streamed him into the Symposium. Other speakers included:

  • Eric Garcia, an IT expert, spoke on how to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace
  • Wendy Hauser, DVM, and Joy Fuhrman, DVM, gave a joint presentation on why it takes more than money to motivate employees
  • Peter Weinstein, DVM, discussed best practices for working on and not just in the veterinary practice
  • Mary Gardner, DVM, highlighted the untapped market of geriatrics
  • Heather Romano spoke on human resources topics
  • PSIvet Member Dr. Gary Edlin and iVET360 provided data analytics

The sessions were carved into digestible, two-hour blocks so attendees could take breaks or deal with practice business throughout the day. Attendance for the live event was good, but for those unable to attend, the sessions were offered for an extended period on demand for a reasonable fee. Veterinarians, practice managers, and veterinary technicians could earn 9.5 hours of CE credits through the Symposium.

Photo of speaker from the PSIvet Business Symposium.

There was a lot of interaction between speakers and attendees, Ladd said. Attendees could text comments or send pictures. Prizes were given away. “It was a fun three days,” he said. “We wanted to not only have the event but to step it up a notch and go live … It gave our audience the feeling of a real event rather than a Zoom call.”

Putting on a digital event was harder than an in-person event, Ladd said. “It’s a little bit more challenging than you might think.” PSIvet had a complete production crew with producers and videographers. With so much work behind the scenes, the Symposium had the feel of a TV show being produced.

COVID protocols were also in place. A private car picked up each speaker at the airport. There were regular temperature checks and sanitizing stations at the Symposium for speakers and crew, along with mask requirements for those not on stage. When the speakers were brought up for a roundtable, social distancing was implemented.

Usually, during in-person events, speakers fly in for their presentation and then fly out the same day. However, for the Symposium, Ladd said the speakers stayed all three days and really enjoyed the interactions. The roundtable discussion was “lively,” and one of the big hits of the event. “It was a bit of a risk in doing the Symposium this way,” Ladd said. “But that risk really paid off because the reward was a very educational three days of content and discussion from some of the top minds in the industry.”

There were also some fun quirks to the Symposium. For instance, PSIvet President Pat McCarthy wore his trademark purple suit to the kickoff, but how he got there was a bit of a journey. A video made for the start of the Symposium saw him packing his bags, traveling to the airport, and then jumping out of a plane in order to get to the Symposium. Then McCarthy was filmed walking through the hotel and backstage similar to scenes from late-night talk shows before making his appearance on-stage.

“Our goal was to kick off this one-of-a-kind event with a lot of positive energy,” said McCarthy. “My purpose for jumping out of the plane was to reinforce my desire to be at our Symposium live and in-person for our members and the PSIvet team that was watching it at home. We heard there were small watch parties across the country and that members shared the content with their hospital teams. As the leader in the veterinary industry, PSIvet is always looking to bring more value to our membership and this year’s Business Symposium did just that despite the constraints from COVID-19.”