The ups and downs of local meetings

June 6, 2013
How some meetings are dealing with recent trends in attendance

How some meetings are dealing with recent trends in attendance

By lauren burns, associate editor

Both the Buffalo meeting and the Virginia meeting have seen fluctuations in attendance – in fact, between 2009 and 2010, both meetings saw their most significant drop in attendance. This isn't a coincidence, perhaps – Carter Lyons, the director of continuing education and the Virginia Meeting at the Virginia Dental Association, attributes the numbers to the state of the economy, especially since numbers increased between 2011 and 2012 (the same cannot be said of the Buffalo meeting for those years, which has maintained a steady up-and-down rate since 2006).

Of course, both meetings put emphasis on promoting the meeting, using both traditional mailers as well as email blasts or newsletters. They both brag about their speakers and CE courses, as well as the location of the meeting – something that might sway people to come if they've never been before.

Unsurprisingly, both making changes to this year's meeting, from allowing dentists to be more hands-on with their learning to implementing more outside tournaments – like golf or skeet shooting – and receptions to improve the social atmosphere of the meeting.

Read through these short interviews with Sherry Szarowski of the Buffalo Niagara Dental Meeting and Carter Lyons of The Virginia Meeting to find out what's pushed their numbers down in the past, and how they're bringing them back up again.

On the Buffalo Niagara Dental Meeting of the Dental Alumni Assocation at the University of Buffalo

Lauren Burns: What attendance trends have you seen over the last few years at your meeting? What do you attribute your numbers to?

Sherry Szarowski: Attendance at the Buffalo Niagara Dental Meeting (BNDM) has decreased slightly over the past three years. We have seen less dentists and less staff. We believe the decrease in attendance is due to a couple of factors, one being the opportunity to get Continuing Education (CE) credits online and the other being this year's meeting was a month earlier than usual.

LB: When do you start to promote your meeting and what methods do you use to promote it?

SS: We promote the BNDM in several ways. First we send a save-the-date postcard seven to eight months prior to the meeting. Secondly, we mail a six-page brochure that is sent six months prior to the meeting and then again two months before the meeting. We also send e-mail blasts on a regular basis to those whom we have e-mail addresses for. We have a website full of information for all attendees and exhibitors with courses, speakers, and events, listed eight to nine months in advance.

LB: What are some of the best aspects of your meeting – the things you like to brag about?

SS: We feel the BNDM is becoming a destination location with the close proximity to Niagara Falls and development of the Buffalo waterfront. It is also an incredible value for the money – non-members of the University at Buffalo Dental Alumni Association can get up to 15 CE credits for less than $400. We conclude our meeting every year with a dinner dance for alumni of the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. All guests are welcome!

LB: What changes have you seen in your show over the last five years?

SS: In the past five years, the BNDM has expanded lectures to include hands-on courses at the meeting for an additional fee. We offer more CE courses so there is something for everyone – dentists, hygienists, assistants and staff. We have enhanced our show floor with state-of-the-art lighting and décor.

LB: What are some changes you are making for future meetings? What should visitors look forward to, that they haven't seen at your meeting before?

SS: For BNDM, we will continue to keep our prices for CE credits very low. With prices increasing all around us, we want to remain a constant value. We want to continue being one of the premier dental meetings in Western New York that dentists and their staff look forward to coming to because of the wide variety of continuing education courses we offer. As we say, "There is a course for everyone!"

LB: How do you keep your exhibitors happy so that they come back again?

SS: Communication, communication and more communication is the way we keep exhibitors happy. We communicate with the home offices and the local representatives before the meeting and make them aware of everything that is going on during the two and a half days of our meeting. We want to know what they need and we do our best to provide it. During the meeting, we provide lunch both afternoons, throw a happy hour party for them, and continue to make sure they have everything they need during the show. Within two weeks of the meeting, we e-mail them and thank them for coming and ask for their input about the meeting.

LB: How do you draw doctors to your show?

SS: We keep prices low, we incorporate the meeting with the annual University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine reunion events and we continue to provide a diverse group of speakers on a variety of topics.

LB: How do you make sure the doctors are spending time in your exhibit hall?

SS: We keep the doctors on the exhibit floor by staggering breaks during the lectures. We have a cash giveaway, and they must be present to win. During opening night, attendees have to get their CE credits on the exhibit floor. And we encourage our exhibitors to offer show specials or giveaways to bring the doctors to their booths.

LB: Can you provide a synopsis of what your meeting aims to do, and how?

SS: The BNDM continues to be one of most affordable dental meetings in the country with a destination location – Niagara Falls! We offer something for everyone. We have programs for dentists, hygienists, assistants and staff. We will continue to draw dentists from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Canada and show them that this is one of the most affordable dental meetings to attend within driving distance. Everything from the fee for meeting to the hotel and the food is more affordable than most cities. Next year's BNDM is September 25-27, 2013. We hope to see you there!

On the 2013 Virginia Meeting with Ms. Carter Lyons, director of The Virginia Meeting

Lauren Burns: What attendance trends have you seen in the last few years? Carter Lyons: From 2008 to 2011, we saw a substantial decrease in numbers. This was across the board and included dentists, staff, spouses, etc.

LB: What do you attribute that to?

CL: Largely to the state of the economy, as 2012 showed a substantial increase and there has been quite a bit of interest generated for 2013. Additionally, we are changing meeting locations and dates, which we feel will further increase attendance.

LB: How do you promote your meeting?

CL: We use many different methods. We place a great deal of meeting information in our journal, which is published quarterly. We also include meeting information in our e-newsletter, which is published semi-monthly. Additionally, we send ads and promotional materials to other state associations and meetings, and we send reminders to our members through the mail throughout the year as well.

LB: Do you use online methods?

CL: Yes. On our website, we have an entire page designated to the Virginia Meeting so that if attendees are interested, they can find a great deal of information there. For the first time this year, we will have a Virginia Meeting Facebook page so that attendees can not only get information about the meeting, but also "like" the page, which enters them in a drawing for free meeting registration and other prizes.

LB: What are some of the best aspects of your meeting – the things you like to brag about?

CL: We traditionally have close to 1,500 attendees and we have fantastic speakers booked for this year. To list a few, we're featuring Bruce Christopher, Dr. Mark Hyman, Ms. Laney Kay, Dr. Gary Radz, Dr. Lawrence Wallace, Ms. Rebecca Wilder, Dr. James Wooddell and Dr. Joe Passaro – and an Invisalign course as well. Our attendees love the fact that they can attend such high-quality CE, all the while taking advantage of The Homestead Resort (where we're holding the meeting) and all the fun it offers. Additionally, members of local districts (the surrounding states and the 16th district) can attend for the same fee as a VDA member.

LB: What kind of fun does The Homestead Resort offer?

CL: The social aspect is very important to us, so we include a variety of opportunities for fun! In 2013, there will be a golf tournament, a skeet shooting tournament, several receptions, lunches, dinners, and of course, our annual President's Party on Friday night.

LB: What are some changes that you are making to the meeting this year?

CL: For the past six years, our governance and CE/social meetings have been separate, but we're looking forward to bringing our meetings together again starting in 2013. This allows us to move our meeting date to September 18 through 22, rather than the summer date we've had before. Additionally, our meeting will be located at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, which will be a real treat. We have outstanding room rates for the meeting, so we encourage folks to consider attending and make their reservations early!

LB: How do you keep your exhibitors happy?

CL: We encourage our attendees to visit the exhibit hall whenever possible throughout the conference by hosting receptions in the exhibit hall in the evenings and providing food throughout the day (or days) the hall is open. Additionally, we encourage our exhibitors to offer meeting specials to our attendees by providing the mailing list of attendees free of charge. We also include two free lunches with their booth. Most importantly, we try very hard to connect with them personally. Each year, our Council on Sessions takes their feedback and tweaks our effort in the exhibit hall, based on their wants and needs.