I used to schedule almost every moment of conference time.
In fact, the email that seemed to get the most response from prospective clients was: “Are you going to XYZ conference?” Let’s face it, people like to see and be seen, and there’s no better place to do so in ophthalmology than conference time.
But over the years, as industry associates more and more became friends, I have found it is typically unnecessary to schedule anything. I know you’ll be here. You know I’ll be here. And it’s just so much more natural to go with the flow and catch up like we never left off, in yet another wonderful part of the world.
In fact, if the song Imagine by John Lennon were re-written for conference meet-ups it might go something like this:
“Imagine there’s no email
It’s easy if you try
No cell phones to hold us
In congress, only hi
Imagine all attendees
Livin’ life with friends
It is with this new conference approach that I had the most wonderful time at Winter ESCRS in Vilamoura, Portugal, with the following friends, and for the following reasons:
Dr. Gerd Auffarth, who despite our years of collaboration editorially, showed me another side of his thoughtful, gentle character at an ad hoc breakfast get-together. We spoke about the education system in Germany, as I have 7- and 10-year-old daughters, for whom I am starting to think about college. I don’t really believe in the American university system anymore, as it seems to crush youngsters under a mountain of debt. Germany, however, has a university system that is virtually free of charge. Gerd was sharing some great things about the town of Heidelberg, where of course his David J Apple Laboratory is located.
Dr. Oliver Findl, who was the only person on this list I did email ahead of time to meet, but only on the way to Vilamoura on a layover. Oliver is so welcoming I knew we wouldn’t have to arrange anything so rigidly weeks in advance. Nope, come on over to the Winter ESCRS and enjoy some intimate industry connections. I think that’s kind of the spirit of Winter ESCRS, after all. The standard ESCRS is so important, so massive, and so innovative, you feel like you’re breathless the entire time to keep up. But Winter ESCRS is different. It’s cool, it’s intimate, and it really does support European ophthalmology relationships. To be honest, I almost gave this meeting a miss, but it is clearly critical on my conference track for these very reasons. There were some exhibitor questions about the point of Winter ESCRS, which seemed to make the rounds in emerging areas pre-pandemic. Think ESCRS Winter 2020 in Marrakech, ESCRS Winter 2018 in Belgrade, or ESCRS 2015 in Istanbul (my first Winter ESCRS). But I do think Vilamoura fits the list nicely, and I don’t think I’ll miss another Winter ESCRS, ever.
Anyways, Oliver first became a friend alongside the Eyecelerator at ASCRS last year, where we talked about the importance of sustainability in ophthalmology. Innovative minds certainly show up at Eyecelerator, but Oliver, who is a giant in ophthalmology as ESCRS President, was so very approachable. We extended our friendship during a recorded discussion for Johnson & Johnson Vision at the APACRS in Seoul last year. Oliver agreed to host an ESCRS-supported seminar at our CAKE & PIE Expo in Da Nang, Vietnam last August. And here at Winter ESCRS, we were cooking up more exciting plans for the future.
Dr. David Lockington, whose Northern Irish humor would be right home in my native Delaware, starting with his English pronunciation. In his talk, Digital dry labs and simulator training to start your surgical career… Safer surgical experience for all, it was because of his clear passion for ophthalmic teaching that I really got to know him in a new light. Some of the ophthalmic lessons for trainees even seemed like life lessons for the rest of us. Case in point, when he said: “Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Though David, in Delaware, that would get lost in local translation… Something like “Just because it’s gross, doesn’t mean it’s inedible.” I grew up on 7-11 chili cheese dogs and Hungry Man microwaveable meals, after all. Though in retrospect, they would have been better used as ophthalmic surgical simulators than ending up in my gut.
Dr. Filomena Ribeiro, who clearly is a kindred fashion icon spirit, as our patterns appear in blacklight together for the first time in Portugal. I am just stoked that Filomena is the president-elect of ESCRS. Not only is she clearly a rad woman in ophthalmology, but it is just refreshing to know that the ESCRS is headed in such a cool direction. The world’s most dynamic ophthalmology show should be headed in this direction, but under such important societal weight, it easily could have gone in a more traditional direction. I’m so glad that’s not the case, and it is a testament to the movement of our field turning toward our next generation of young ophthalmologists as well.
Jose Aispuro, who I got to catch up with again after our co-hosted Johnson & Johnson Livestream at ESCRS Milan last year. We’re already cooking up some interesting new media adventures at ESCRS Vienna this year, so stay tuned. The innovative mind of this man, and the round-the-world connections we share from LATAM to North America to Europe to APAC, are really enjoyable to behold.
Domenic von Planta, CEO of Schwind eye-tech-solutions. Domenic is my new favorite CEO in ophthalmology. His vibe is so fresh, and I feel like I can ask him anything as a fellow leader in the field. We had a really nice general business-sharing session in Vilamoura. His humility is also very refreshing. He kept saying that he wants to get out there more in the world to connect, and I assured him he already is more active internationally than many CEOs I meet. I was stoked to hear he may end up visiting Da Nang, Vietnam, my home, in August, for our own conference. Keep going Domenic! Let’s be inspired together.
Dr. Sorcha Ni Dhubhghaill, is one of our Media MICE KOL Influencers. Our influencers are such happening people, that it only takes a moment to connect for a picture to know that we are aligned in our worldwide engagement. We know the power and value of social media for educational purposes, and so it’s part of our mission to be visually active at conferences. Sorcha mentioned she wants to sit down and talk, as we were running to another session, but we both know we can do that on zoom also. Most importantly, let’s get that pic together and talk later!
Teresa Cavalinhos Filho‘s energy is electric. I mean, I know they just launched new Ophtec branding, but she took the time to write me on LinkedIn to check that I’d be at ESCRS to catch up. Now I know that’s against the trend that I spoke about in the beginning of this article, but I still appreciate a LinkedIn message. It’s the way to communicate now! Shout out to Remko Bos for his love of purple for the new Ophtec brand. It really pops, pal! The branding comes along with the celebration of Ophtec’s 40-year anniversary, meanwhile. It’s good to look good at 40+. I should know…
Kathrin Benedikt, of Tomey, had me at “Hello, Matt Young.” As I explained in my LinkedIn comment to her, “It’s hard not to stop when you hear your full name in its full glory. Friends started calling me “Matt Young” in full in high school like it was somehow more familiar than “Matt.” So when I heard my full name, I do a double take like I’m 18 again. Ha! It was great enjoying the fashions of Kathrin too!
Well, when you have friends like these, you can pick out your future Media MICE Mansion and believe that’s not just PIE in the sky, so to speak. Thanks to all m’eye friends for contributing to the success of our media journey not only in Asia-Pacific, but now more concretely than ever on the ground in Europe at places like ESCRS and beyond. And of course, our pit stop here in Vilamoura was on the way to Buenos Aires, where we will see more friends soon as part of our new LATAM media expansion.
So, see you at showtime somewhere in the world. Just don’t expect me to call or write ahead of time.