By Lauren Burns
With the North Carolina Dental Association 2013 Annual Session ("Carolina Shines") in the midst of planning, I spoke with Priscilla Allen about exactly what it is that goes into planning the annual meeting, how long it takes to plan the meeting, and what changes are being made that might be seen in 2013.
What attendance trends have you seen over the last few years at your meeting?
Our attendance trends do not vary much from year to year – perhaps 2-3 percent. Typically we have approximately 1,900 to 2,300 attendees annually.
What do you attribute your numbers to?
The theme of our meeting is what drives the attendance, but we have a faithful and loyal group of registrants each year. I know most of the attendees, so if I do not see someone's name [on the registration list], I make it a point to contact them and ask why. Our meeting is scheduled the same weekend each year and has been for a number of years and it's held in Myrtle Beach, on at a first class oceanfront property: the Embassy Suites and Hilton at Kingston Plantation. Now, there is an attraction! We make it a family event as well – dental professionals are encouraged to bring their families.
When do you start to promote your meeting, and what methods do you use to promote it?
We begin promoting the next year's Annual Session during the current session using a banner, handouts and promotional gifts. The North Carolina Dental Society has a first-class magazine publication, and an article or ad is used in each of the four issues annually. Our website is updated for the next meeting as soon as we return from the most recent one, and we begin to send periodic email blasts to our members.
Do you use online communication methods such as Facebook or Twitter?
Kim Roberson is assigned to social media and membership, and she is really good about promoting this meeting and works closely with the planning and execution of this Annual Session.
What are some of the best aspects of your meeting – the things you like to brag about?
There is so much that I like to brag about! This meeting is planned by volunteers from the home area of the NCDS president as a tribute to his or her year of service, and we offer something for everyone, beginning with the President's Opening Reception and the kickoff for the exhibit hall on Thursday evening. The program committee for the Annual Session brings the best of clinicians from across the country to speak during our meeting and plans a program of interest for everyone. We have a variety of programs each day, so an attendee can select from three to four programs during one session to attend. Our registration fees are very reasonable for someone to have the opportunity to receive 15 to 18 hours of continuing education (approximately $20 per hour). A registrant can attend a program each day and receive enough continuing education credits for their annual license renewal requirement.
We even have sporting events – bicycling, tennis, golf, and a fun run/walk. Even kids enjoy these programs. Speaking of kids, we have a special children's event (ages 5-12) planned one afternoon so Mom and Dad can enjoy some time doing what they like, whether that's shopping, pool time or another fun activity.
The American Dental Association and the North Carolina Dental Society holds an open Town Hall Meeting each year. The latest issues are shared with the dental community. We are always fortunate to have a representative from the ADA to join us for our meeting each year, as well as an officer from the neighboring states of Virginia and North Carolina.
Shag lessons are provided on Friday afternoon and a large beach party (featuring one of the great bands from East Coast Entertainment) is held on Friday evening, and even features a shag contest where cash prizes are presented!
Our exhibitor hall is the best on the East Coast. We sell out completely each year and end up with a waiting list. Our exhibit hall holds 92 eight-by-eight booths, and we have such a demand for space that we have actually spilled this area out into the hallways of the convention center. We offer display tables to non-profit organizations that provide services to the dental profession and have a message that they want to share with those involved in the profession.
The NCDS holds two sessions for our House of Delegates (governance) while we are at this meeting. We have recently changed our meeting schedule. On Thursdays and Saturdays were we begin classes at 8 a.m. and end by 1 p.m., so those who want to participate in this governance session can still receive the desired continuing education credits.
On the early evening of Saturday, we hold a special event for the family where everyone can have some fun and entertainment. On Sunday morning we end our meeting with a devotional program and the last of our meetings where we recap the current meeting and plan for the next one. This devotional program has become a mini worship session and is usually led by a member of the NCDS.
The most important feature our meeting is the Awards Luncheon, when the dental profession presents awards to the best of the best leaders in dentistry. The chair of this event does an outstanding job to recognize these individuals with stories about their lives. Many times, the recipient and the audience are brought to tears.
What changes have you seen in your show over the last five years?
The themes of our meetings have really become interesting in the past few years. In 2013, the theme is "Carolina Shines." The NCDS President is from the mountain area of North Carolina so we are even hoping to have a legitimate moonshiner on hand for our meeting. This past year our theme had to do with sports, so the title was "2012 Dentistry All Stars." The shirts the Annual Session Council wore to promote the meeting were actually baseball jerseys! Now, we did get some looks, but we also had attendees who liked the shirts so much, they asked to purchase one! That was quite a compliment.
The Annual Session Councils take their jobs more seriously than ever. They care about their profession. Even the dental team member organizations have asked to join in our meetings and hold a meeting for their professional groups. They know this is the largest single event in the state, and everyone wants to participate.
How do you keep your exhibitors happy so that they come back again?
We are hands-on with our exhibitors. Our exhibit chair is available to help them unload and set up and tear down equipment and booths. The exhibit chair for the next year visits each vendor and asks how things are going and what they would like to change for the next year. This chair shares the information with me so I can address the changes. We have started to provide refreshments in the exhibit hall during the early morning hours and course breaks, which drives the attendees to this area. While they're in the hall, they can visit with exhibitors. We also do popcorn and have an ice cream social on Friday at lunch for the attendees. The exhibitors are treated to a lounge area each day and lunch on Friday. They really like having this area, especially if they need to speak with a client in a quiet atmosphere. We try to do a lot for them, but by far the biggest comment I hear is that we listen to them!
How do you draw doctors to your show?
By providing the best continuing education programs available to our group, as well as providing them opportunities to network and visit with their colleagues. We are always hearing that it is a perfect meeting to catch up with classmates between reunions!
We value the doctors' opinions and provide what they ask for. They feel that they have a stake in our meeting.
We are working on our registration fees to help attract more dentists. We have free registration for first-year dentists, offer reduced registration fees for NCDS members, faculty from our two dental schools in North Carolina, residents, and armed service personnel. We begin introducing the dental students from the two North Carolina schools to our meeting their first year. Students have the option to have a mentor assigned to them who can help cover their travel expenses to the meeting. There is no registration fee for dental, dental hygiene, dental assisting or dental lab tech students attending this meeting.
Can you provide a synopsis of what your meeting aims to do?
Just like providing the best dental treatment possible for their patients, the dentists want to be sure the NCDS Annual Session continues to be the best, and that's what we aim to do: provide the best education and networking opportunities to dental professionals.