Dear members of the World Muscle Society, dear friends and colleagues,
In 2020, the World Muscle Society, as so many learned societies, held its first virtual congress due to the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement to move online rather than meeting in Halifax was postponed for quite a while, because in April 2020 there was still the hope that the pandemic would be over by October. How little we understood about the impact of the pandemic on our professional and private lives only several months ago!
The decision to cancel the Halifax meeting and to use a digital event management platform was unavoidable and came with many uncertainties. Would we be able to capture at least part of the fantastic spirit and atmosphere of our annual meetings? Would there be enough interest from the neuromuscular community to register and to participate in the congress? And would our dedicated sponsors still be committed to supporting a digital event? Fortunately, the answer to all these questions turned out to be a resounding, ‘Yes’!
The 25th WMS Anniversary Congress, despite the fact that it was entirely digital, was nevertheless a great success. It could not, of course, replace the value of an in-person meeting, the scientific discussions over coffee breaks and at poster sessions, the social interactions at the congress dinner, the excursion, or the dance floor. Nonetheless, we had a record number of participants, had great oral and poster presentations, excellent question and answer sessions, fantastic industry symposia and an extremely successful teaching course. Just to highlight the impact the WMS Pre-Congress Teaching Course will have had on the neuromuscular field: instead of our normal number of 40-50 participants, we had >1,600 participants. I would like to specifically thank Benedikt Schoser as the teaching course organiser and all the members of the teaching course faculty for the highly educational event. My thanks also go to all presenters who kindly agreed that we could keep their presentations and posters on the congress platform, allowing colleagues to visit the scientific content of the congress even after the formal closing of the event. The feedback we received through the evaluation forms was overall very positive and many participants mentioned that the WMS meeting was one of the best-organised virtual congresses they had attended. This was also due to the wonderful support from Clare Beach and her colleagues from Azura Events and the technical team from Kenes, our virtual platform provider.
When the executive board of our Society decided to have its first virtual congress in 2020, we all thought that this would be an exception, one of a kind. Surely, life would be back to normal for our annual congress in 2021 in Prague, as we had postponed the Halifax meeting to 2022. After the success of the first virtual congress, it slowly sunk in that life might actually not go back to normal in 2021. We all realised that ‘normal’ has changed and that a return to the pre-pandemic status quo is unlikely. We have learned to live with videoconferences, that you can be interactive without travelling to meetings, that there is a benefit for the environment and that virtual meetings allow broader participation and can be more inclusive. We also understand that despite the encouraging news of safe and effective vaccinations, it will still take many months before people feel confident to socially interact again in large groups, before the infrastructure and logistics to travel around the world are implemented again and before there is sufficient immunity for everyone to be safe.
The executive board of the WMS has therefore decided to hold another virtual congress in 2021. We wanted to make sure that everyone can plan for the meeting, our members, our sponsors, those who are interested in the teaching course and of course our congress organisers. Our colleagues in Prague needed to know if contracts should be signed and our programme committee if we could expect speakers to travel to Prague.
We wanted to avoid uncertainty and are confident that we can organise another successful virtual WMS meeting in 2021. Please put the date into your diaries: 20-24 September 2021.
I am looking forward to seeing you at our virtual congress centre again!
With very best wishes