Frequently Asked Questions
Posted July 13, 2020
SBM’s 2021 Annual Meeting is going entirely virtual due to COVID-19. Here’s how and why we decided. Have a question not listed below? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did the Board make this decision?
Board members and staff have been closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic since January 2020. With so much persistent COVID-19 risk and uncertainty, we feel holding the conference virtually will be the best way to connect and share our science while keeping everyone safe. Board members carefully considered our SBM values and our responsibility for members, attendees, society at large, and SBM’s long-term future. We especially relied on member/attendee responses to our COVID-19 survey, administered in May 2020.
More details on survey results and all information the Board considered are found in the additional questions and answers below.
Why is SBM deciding this now? April 2021 is so far away and a lot could change before then.
The Board made this decision in July 2020 because we already know a vaccine is unlikely to be ready before our conference. Additionally, survey respondents told us they are either uncomfortable traveling or unable to. Respondents self-reported 105 institutions with travel bans that extend past our 2021 conference dates. Those without official bans have “unofficial” bans due to budget cuts. As one survey respondent wrote, “We will not be receiving travel funds from the university next year as part of cost saving measures.” Bans and budgets aside, many are not comfortable traveling, especially to a large event in Florida. “I'm not just scared to be at the conference. I'm scared to travel there and back,” a survey respondent said. That fear extends to how your attendance would impact others: “I feel safe and believe I would recover, but fear who I may contact inadvertently who could not recover.”
Making this decision now allows our Program Committee ample time to plan an amazing virtual conference, rather than spending time planning for multiple scenarios. It helps minimize the potential financial losses to SBM, so we can keep dues affordable and keep offering all of our other member benefits. It sets a strong example and encourages other organizations to hold safe virtual events for the foreseeable future. And, it allows us to listen to member input and be clear about what the 2021 meeting will look like from the beginning, even before we invite abstracts. We’ll open abstract submissions in August 2020.
Won’t a vaccine be ready in time?
Many survey respondents told us they would be uncomfortable attending a conference until a COVID-19 vaccine was in widespread use, and unfortunately realistic projections indicate a vaccine will not be available until March 2021.
Is SBM just making this decision based on money?
Board members have a duty to be good financial stewards for SBM, but they considered much more than dollars and cents. Board members carefully considered our SBM values, health and safety of various populations, the attendee experience, and results from our member/attendee COVID-19 survey. Going virtual now is the best decision for all of those areas. An added benefit is that going virtual now should mean less financial loss, which allows us to keep dues as low as possible, especially for students.
Are attendees even interested in a virtual conference? What about Zoom fatigue?
74% of survey respondents were interested in attending a virtual SBM meeting. For the 26% who weren’t sure, don’t worry—this will not be a days-long Zoom call. Our Program Committee is dedicated to making sure the virtual format is interactive, allows for worthwhile networking, features a mix of live and on-demand sessions, and makes sense for all time zones and work-from-home realities.
What about a hybrid meeting, with an in-person option and a virtual option?
At first glance, this seems like a win-win option, but concerns persist about inadvertently excluding immunocompromised people from attending an in-person option and about potentially risking attendee and host city resident health by having any sort of in-person component.
Would social distancing make an in-person event feasible?
Social distancing would help comfort levels, but would mean caps on the number of attendees. We would only have 25% of our normal attendance. Picture our large keynote ballroom, but with 300 chairs instead of 1,200. This would be a very different conference experience than what we have come to know and love about SBM. Not only would sessions feel empty, but the impromptu meet-ups and informal networking would also be significantly restricted.
In-person attendance caps and COVID-19 risk would have the unintended consequence of excluding those who are immunocompromised or serving in caretaker roles. As one survey respondent wrote, “Excluding members who are already underrepresented or marginalized because of physical limitations or health conditions is not cool.” It also contradicts our SBM values and our 2021 meeting theme, “Going All In with Innovation, Inclusion, and Influence.”
Couldn’t we just move the 2021 meeting to the summer?
SBM considered this option but was unable to find a suitable hotel property with summer 2021 availability. We also worried a summer meeting may still have a COVID-19 risk, could infringe on planning of our 2022 Annual Meeting, and would detract from the International Congress of Behavioral Medicine happening in July 2021 and hosted by the International Society of Behavioral Medicine.
Why did SBM choose Orlando in the first place?
Annual meeting locations are approved by the SBM Board at least 3 years in advance after a rigorous RFP and vetting process. Factors considered include hotel accommodations, conference space size (especially for our large poster hall), cost of hotel WiFi in conference spaces, weather, health-consciousness of the host city, and geographic location (so we’re not always asking the same members to travel long distances).
How much will a virtual conference cost for attendees?
We are currently deciding registration rates. SBM knows institutional and personal funds are limited during this time, so we will price a virtual conference lower than an in-person event and will budget for an overall loss on the meeting to make sure registration rates are affordable. Attendees will save on travel costs and can look forward to the same member and student discounts we’ve always had.
Update December 2020: SBM has opened registration with the following rate structure:
The SBM Board of Directors set registration rates based on peer organizations’ pricing for virtual events and, most importantly, based on survey data from our members and past attendees, who told us about their limited funds and financial hardships. We know that COVID-19 has only exacerbated the tightening of personal and institutional budgets. The Board committed to making SBM’s meeting affordable, and approved a 2021 Annual Meeting budget with a projected loss in order to keep rates as low as possible, even though total costs change very little whether an event is held virtually or in person. The Board is pleased to offer registration rates that are significantly lower than those of past SBM meetings and that are especially low for students.
What about the 2022 Annual Meeting?
SBM is committed to returning to the face-to-face format that you know and love as soon as it is safe.
What ended up happening with the 2020 Annual Meeting cancellation? Some associations have folded after cancelling a meeting. That won’t happen to SBM, will it?
As you’ll recall, SBM’s 2020 meeting was to take place in San Francisco at the beginning of April. As word of the virus and its danger first began spreading in late winter, the SBM Board decided to cancel the meeting in order to keep everyone safe. This decision was made carefully after much deliberation. SBM Then-President Michael Diefenbach, PhD, and SBM Then-Program Chair Alison Phillips, PhD, were able to turn the keynotes, master lectures, and presidential symposia into webinars, and were able to post papers and posters online.
Holding SBM’s 2020 Annual Meeting was budgeted to cost the society approximately $750,000, with those costs covered by registration fees, and supporter and exhibitor contributions. SBM committed to refunding all registration fees and other contributions, regardless of whether or not our insurance claim for reimbursement of expenses is approved (we have filed the claim, but have not yet heard a resolution). We know that SBM will remain financially solvent no matter what. Leaders have thankfully built up a financial reserve to protect us in an emergency such as this pandemic. Our decision now to go virtual for 2021’s conference will also help us stay on strong financial footing, as insurance companies are no longer offering relevant event cancellation policies in the time of COVID-19.
Update March 16, 2021: The meeting cancellation did not negatively impact SBM’s finances. All budgeted costs were either avoided or were covered by our event cancellation insurance policy.