San Francisco

Evolve or Become Extinct

July 1, 2013
Lessons on improvement from the California Dental Association

Lessons on improvement from the California Dental Association

By Lauren Burns, associate editor

"Just as the profession of dentistry evolves, so too does CDA Presents." This is the introduction on the CDA Presents website to this year's San Francisco show, held the weekend of August 15. As with dentistry, CDA Presents improves on what works and leaves the rest behind.

CDA Presents in Anaheim had a highly successful meeting in 2013 – over 28,000 people came to hear world-famous speakers, earn continuing education credits, and investigate the new products on display in the exhibit hall.

We were curious to find out what CDA changed this year to garner such success, so we talked with Debi Irwin, vice president of show management, to discover what the success was attributed to. Not surprisingly, her explanation on attendance, programs, and revenue reiterated the idea in the quote above – they listen to their attendees and exhibitors to learn what works, and then they improve on those features as much as they can. Many – if not most, or all – associations say they do this. Perhaps they do. But do they do it like the CDA does it? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There are many factors that their recent success can be attributed to, one of which is the economy. Many associations, including the New Mexico Dental Association, have attributed recent success to the improvement of the economy, as we learned in our April interview with their assistant executive director, Nancy Arenas. Of the top three factors that led to such high attendance numbers, the CDA was responsible for two: a high-quality product and a low registration cost, if there is one at all. (Members aren't required to pay a registration fee, and new attendees are offered a steep discount.) A good product at a low cost: that's business 101. We can only hope for a stable economy to put the cherry on top.

Two more factors could have lured in attendees this year at CDA Presents the Art and Science of Dentistry in Anaheim. At the April Anaheim show, they introduced The International Symposia, conferences featuring two leading dentists from Japan, Kiyokazu Minami, DDS, and Takashi Watanabe, DDS, who lectured on topics such as "Treating Cases of Occlusal Destruction with Full Mouth Reconstruction" and "Clinical Applications of Orthodontic Treatment in the Esthetic Zone." CDA Presents uses the International Symposia of Dental Learning to explore "alternative philosophies and treatment modalities the world over," according to their website. The International Symposia proved to be a big hit for attendees. Sussi Yamaguchi, a dentist from San Diego, praised Dr. Minami's presentation. "I thought it was really interesting to have an international perspective on how restorative dentistry is done in Japan. And I thought it was really neat to learn that you can do full-mouth reconstruction with all your provisionals done right, and then you hardly have to do any adjustments at the end." Drs. Minami and Watanabe will be returning to the International Symposia at the San Francisco meeting for more enlightening international dentistry sessions. At the next Anaheim meeting, there will be even more international speakers, perhaps from Mexico and Germany, according to CDA Presents Board of Managers chair Del Brunner, DDS.

Another feature of the meeting that benefits both the lab and the dentist is the Lab Track. The Lab Track features lectures and a panel discussion on how the dentist and lab can collaborate for the best esthetic results possible. Lectures in this topic area focused on implementing a team approach with the All On-4 Concept by Victor S. Rodriguez, AA, CDT, MAAIP and "Digital Restorative Dentistry and the Lab," by Michael C. DiTolla, DDS, which focused on how CAD/CAM technology has changed the face of dentistry in the last few years. This feature, so far, is only available at the Anaheim meeting.

Of course, these programs make the already attractive CDA Presents meetings even more appealing. Dentists appreciate that the lectures aren't elementary, but rather complicated, and lab technicians appreciate the information that is geared toward the relationship between dentists and labs. Another benefit for exhibitors, which was new at the Anaheim meeting this year, is the staggered class schedules. In an interview with CDA Update, Dr. Del Brunner claimed that the goal of the staggered class schedule was to "create a situation where the exhibitor floor midday foot traffic was less overwhelming for attendees and exhibitors. […] This gives more people an opportunity to see all the great dental products available."

Unquestionably, the city where the meeting is held is important. It doesn't hurt the CDA that they have one of the most culturally-rich cities in the world to host their meeting. This year, the CDA party is at the Exploratorium near the wharf – a beautiful place for a party. And for attendees and exhibitors, there is a plethora of excellent restaurants to visit. If you're at a loss for ideas, check out "Looking ahead to the 2012 American Dental Association annual session: The insider's guide to San Francisco" on

To find out more about the upcoming San Francisco meeting, read our interview with Debi Irwin, vice president of show management.

Lauren Burns: I know that exhibitor attendance has been slightly decreasing over the past few years at the San Francisco meeting. Are you seeing the same trend in Anaheim?

Debi IrwIN: Attendance has been decreasing among exhibitors – we are seeing the decrease at both meetings. I think exhibitors are focusing more on who they're bringing – they're looking to bring less staff to watch their costs. Our overall square footage and exhibitor numbers are consistent, though. We also look at the number of companies that are coming, and that number has shrunk because we've seen a lot of consolidation – either merging companies or bringing them into one booth space. We look at companies, square footage, and revenue, and among those factors, it's remained pretty consistent.

Lauren Burns: I saw on your website that this year's meeting in Anaheim brought in the second largest amount of people that have ever come to a CDA meeting. Why do you think you had such a great turnout this year?

Debi IrwIN: I think that we continue to offer a consistent but improved product for our members, and we do not charge our members an additional registration fee. They get a great deal of quality CE at a very reasonable cost. That caries over to the dental team as well. I think those two factors, mixed with the economy, make it a very efficient and cost-effective way to gain their certification.

Lauren Burns: Do you think the San Francisco meeting will be as successful this year as Anaheim was?

Debi IrwIN: Our trend is ahead of where we were last year, so we're expecting a very similar outcome for San Francisco.

Lauren Burns: The International Symposia and Lab Track really helped garner an interest in your meeting. How are you going to build on that for future meetings?

Debi IrwIN: Every year, we assess what we've done before with a mind to improve. I know everyone says that, and I think they're doing the same, most of them. But we ask our attendees, exhibitors, and speakers, and volunteers, how the experience went. We pay a lot of attention to their feedback and work hard to implement changes that will increase their satisfaction with our meeting.

Lauren Burns: Is there anything that CDA will be introducing in San Francisco that wasn't at the Anaheim meeting?

Debi IrwIN: We're not introducing anything new to CDA Presents at the San Francisco meeting, but there are things that we're introducing in San Francisco for the first time that were at Anaheim before. We will be introducing the International Symposia in San Francisco. We're going to have an overflow room for the first time – it's an overflow audio room if the auditorium is too full.

Lauren Burns: When do you start to promote your meeting, and what methods do you use to promote it?

Debi IrwIN: We start at least a year out. Usually we've sent out the dates before that, but we do it again a year out, and we send out our hardcopy material four or five months in advance. We use all communication methods available – social media, our website, email, and traditional mailings.

Lauren Burns: Tell me about your meeting's app and what it aims to do for your attendees.

Debi IrwIN: What we're trying to do is make it as convenient as possible. We offer a traditional program book on site, but we want everyone to get, with the touch of a button, an exhibitor's booth number. We have a feature on the app that directs them to the booth they're looking for from where they are, making it very easy and accessible to them.

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

Debi IrwIN: Our program is extremely high quality. We work with a board of managers that puts together the program – dentists that volunteer their time. They put so much effort into bringing in renowned speakers and making sure fresh, emerging experts are on the program. They look at the range of topics and audience members so that there's something for everyone. Also, we get a lot of feedback from our members saying it's easy to attend our meeting – they can enjoy it because it's well run, so they can attend it easily. We really listen to our members and implement things that address what doesn't work while improving what does work for them so each year they can see it and appreciate that we are doing our best for them to make it a great experience.

Lauren Burns: Why do you think exhibitors would benefit from attending your show?

Debi IrwIN: We have a great attendance at our meeting – we bring a lot of dental professionals to our exhibit floor. As we do with our attendees, we spend a lot of time listening to our exhibitors to improve the meeting for their return on investment. We do an exit survey for our exhibitors and we implement those changes. We hear a lot from exhibitors that we do a lot to listen and make it a quality meeting for them. We have an exhibitor breakfast on the last day to let them know we appreciate their partnerships and provide information on our attendees that they can use to create their strategies to create a good experience and outcome.

Lauren Burns: How do you draw doctors to your show?

Debi IrwIN: For doctors that aren't attending our meeting, we do direct marketing to them. We offer a one-time reduced fee to non-members. We've had a great response to that. We offer a Saturday exhibit-only pass to non-members – this will be our third meeting with that. We reach out to the western states, because we're in two great locations in California, and we do direct marketing to them.

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

Debi IrwIN: Our biggest aim and priority is service to our members. We exist for them to provide continuing education and practice management tools that they need. That's our compass, and it's what we always come back to. But we also want everyone that comes to have a great experience and to have a very positive experience and environment in which to speak, learn, and visit the trade show.

For more information on the upcoming meeting, go to