The first in-person World Annual Congress in 2 years was held in Bangkok, in August when it’s not really the perfect timing to visit the tropics. After several years of virtual conferences, we were all looking forward to getting back to the “old normal”.
The stated number of registered participants was around 4000 while 350 lectures promised success, as usual. However, nothing is “as usual” anymore, including the World Congress of Psychiatrists. The huge, modern exhibition and congress center BITEC, with its grandiosity, only emphasized the lack of an audience even more. Only a few hundred participants could be seen at the venue. Unfortunately, it seems that most colleagues decided to stay at home and follow the congress online. Since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, we have developed and adopted new habits. One of them is the more massive use of digital communication technologies, both in everyday life and in work with patients. However, very few of us could imagine that the first “in-person” world annual WPA congress, after 2 years of virtual reality, would look like a minor regional event. Time and geographical location are certainly some of the possible explanations. On the other hand, the dedication of those present (especially the lecturers) was not lacking. As the congress progressed, and halls full in the good old “normal times” gaped empty, the question of the future of psychiatry and our scientific congresses arose accordingly.
Virtual lectures: Is it really “simple and the same as Skype”?
In the last two years, I participated in about fifteen international, virtual congresses because there were no other, “in-person” ones. I don’t like ZOOM presentations, they are dry, and when the lecturer also reads every word, they are boring. That’s why I make my virtual lectures like little documentaries. I record my speech and edit the recorded material in combination with video clips, animated material, and slides. I usually add some unobtrusive lounge jazz to the soundtrack. Soft music diverts attention from the inevitable noises created during voice recording. It takes me at least a week to prepare one such presentation. But since I enjoy creating, the time and effort invested are not difficult for me. On the contrary. I feel that my virtual presentations are better and more interesting than my live performances. I guess that’s also because you have to watch and listen to me live, while in virtual presentations I only insert some close-ups of myself here and there. Well-edited animations, video clips, and slides are much more interesting.
Our recorded presentations remain available to the public for at least 3 months after each congress. That’s why I want everything that a potential viewer (mainly fellow psychiatrists) looks at, to leave a motivating impression and inspires possible changes and application of digital technologies in our clinical practice. Also, I hope that with my virtual presentations I eventually contribute to raising general standards regarding their quality. As the vast majority of psychiatrists do not have experience or thorough knowledge of “distance communication”, they often do not even think about e.g. backgrounds and pictures of close family members that anyone can see in the background. Not to mention the window behind the lecturer so that his face is in shadow, and many other details that need to be taken care of. A video clip of a Belgrade professor at the Faculty of Medicine and his wife as she tries to sneak out of the room on all fours during his virtual lecture has gone viral.
At virtual congresses, we understand that high-quality professional remote communication is not the same as a Skype chat with a friend over morning coffee.
So much for virtual lecturers.
Congresses and what we are actually looking for there
But how are things with the congress participants who do not have presentations but are just attentive observers?
A couple of colleagues boasted to me that, thanks to technology, their participation in congresses is now much easier. Of course, I was glad to hear that. I believe that I still can hear something new, despite a couple of decades of dealing with technology in everyday practice. I was really interested in how technology “works for them”. They mentioned a number of advantages: they do not have to buy plane tickets, pay for hotels, and take days off in order to participate in the congress and get the necessary CME credits. Without enough accumulated credits, the doctor cannot get permission to continue doing his job. The points are a sign that the doctor is working on maintaining and improving his previously acquired knowledge. Therefore, coming to congresses is an obligation and not just a pleasure. In the time of virtual conferences, a couple of my above-mentioned colleagues say that they simply log on to the congress website, turn off their camera and mute the microphone, then clean the apartment nicely or make lunch while the presentations go on by themselves. That’s what they said, laughingly praising the COVID19 pandemic in all its tragedy. I immediately thought of Slovenian writer Ivan Cankar and his collection of short stories titled “Laughter through tears”. We had it as mandatory readings in elementary school. And I didn’t know what to do first: cry or burst out laughing.
But crying never made anyone happy, especially not the one who is being cried over.
to be continued …