Getting the most out of your convention experiences

Feb. 21, 2011
Whether dentist, hygienist, assistant, or administrative team member, you want to get the most from your participation. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to make your meeting experiences educational and fun.

By Ann-Marie DePalma, CDA, RDH, MEd, FAADH

We’re in the midst of convention season, with the Greater New York and Yankee Dental meetings behind us and the Chicago Midwinter, Hinman, and others still ahead. How do we make the most of our convention experiences in this tough economic climate? From the exhibit halls to the continuing-education programs to the entertainment, mid-size to large dental conventions can be overwhelming experiences. With that in mind, this article will discuss the best way of getting the most out of your time and money at these meetings.

Providing continuing education is a primary goal of most dental conventions. Whether dentist, hygienist, assistant, or administrative team member, you want to get the most from your participation.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to make your meeting experiences educational and fun.

DON’T attend a course alone and fail to bring the information back to others in the practice. When a team member does this, it decreases the value of the program. How many times have great programs and ideas gone unfulfilled because the ideas were not shared back at the office? When teams participate in programs together, the whole office benefits — from learning the latest techniques to enhancing the patient experience. However, not all team members may want to go to the same programs, and that’s acceptable. But there needs to be some “debriefing” time; i.e., team meetings after programs so that everyone can share what they learned. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a procedure or product will be embraced by the practice; it is just a general sharing of knowledge.

DO learn a new technique. Attending CE programs enhances one’s abilities in all aspects of dentistry, both clinically and in the “soft” skills. If a procedure or patient enhancement appeals to you, spend time either at break or the end of the program to ask the presenter questions. Most presenters are eager and flattered to help those willing to ask for help. Obtain the presenter’s e-mail or Web site information and contact the person following the meeting for further information. Some presenters are heavily booked during a meeting, so there may not be sufficient time to address your issues or concerns. But contacting the presenter with questions after a program is a great way to find a mentor or learn more about a product or procedure. Also, being in a program with people who are eager to learn is a practice-enhancing motivator. You often learn “real world” techniques and tricks that have worked for other participants. The key is being open to learning.

DO prepare for the convention experience. Dental conventions are excellent opportunities for companies to showcase dental products and provide a rich exhibit experience. However, gone are the days when convention halls are filled with companies providing “freebies.” Financial hardships have caused many companies to downsize either booth size or product promotions. The key to negotiating any exhibit hall is preparation. Know where you want to go and what products and vendors you want to see. No one can efficiently take in a show by roaming up and down aisles aimlessly. By meeting before the exhibit, plans can be established as to who will visit which booths. Start with the major vendors, the ones you use on a regular basis, and place any needed orders. Vendors appreciate your business and often offer great convention prices. Next, decide who will go where: hygienists should focus on hygiene products, assistants on assisting, administrative staff on practice development, and doctors on new and innovative products. After the program, each will come back to the office with different perspectives. Base your selections on several questions:

  1. Where do you see the practice today, and where do you want to be?
  2. What techniques/products/procedures would you like the practice to offer?
  3. What innovative techniques/products/procedures interest you?
  4. What techniques/products/procedures have patients inquired about that you need to learn more about?
  5. Are there any products/procedures you’ve purchased that you have difficulty implementing? Companies appreciate both positive and negative feedback in order to enhance their products.

Schedule your follow-up debriefing meeting as soon after the convention as possible, no more than seven to 10 days after the program. If a meeting is not scheduled within that time, there is a high risk that information will be lost, new products forgotten, and the motivation to do anything new can be lost. A team interested in growing the practice (and in today’s economy, who isn’t?) must attend conventions with plenty of planning so the visit is not a waste of time. Preplanning an exhibit hall visit allows the team to achieve the most from their experiences.

Team members who attend meetings or visit the exhibit floor just to “get credits” are not interested in learning more to enhance their practice. These people will not benefit from the upturn when the economy recovers. Preplanning and discussion after your convention is an investment in yourself and your practice, and it will make 2011 your most wonderful year!

Author bio
Ann-Marie C. DePalma, CDA, RDH, MEd, FAADH, is a fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and a member of ADHA and other professional associations. Ann-Marie presents continuing-education programs for hygienists and dental team members and has written numerous articles on a variety of topics. She is a regular columnist for RDH magazine. You may contact Ann-Marie at [email protected].