Cameron Curtis, an executive director, and Perry Juliano, an event director, both serve the Healthcare + Scientific Industry Practice at SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more associations turn to than any other. Contact Cameron at CCurtis@smithbucklin.com and Perry at PJuliano@smithbucklin.com, or visit www.smithbucklin.com.
The face-value reason health care professionals attend their association’s annual event is to earn continuing medical education (CME or CE) credits. But health care conventions also are providing the necessary forums where professionals are exchanging ideas, innovations and leading practices so they can improve patient outcomes and help evolve their industry or profession.
Such collaborations don’t occur in a vacuum. Exchanges happen in the conference’s hallways, during dinner and over coffee or cocktails. They also can happen on the bus heading to a rock-climbing excursion, at the recharge station in the exhibit hall or during a competitive game of “Family Feud” in a study session.
These forums can be as fun and creative as your imagination allows, and you won’t need to go over budget. Following are some tips for creating unique experiences that will have your audience talking about them long after they return home.
Before you jump in with a teambuilding exercise, you’ll need to understand your whole audience, including attendees, sponsors, exhibitors and other stakeholders. What are their goals for participating in the event? Since health care events cover a broad spectrum — from pharmaceutical conferences to medical association annual meetings — identifying your specific audience’s wants and needs will help you develop a thorough engagement strategy for the event.
It’s important to make sure your team is educated on the state and federal regulations such as the PhRMA Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals and the Sunshine Act. These regulations specify rules of engagement for health care professionals, so that a giveaway of branded portable speakers, which seemed like a great idea at one time, actually could jeopardize your attendees’ licenses because the gift exceeds monetary value limits. Having all the information in advance will help you navigate the challenges of a health care convention while still delivering the engagement your attendees crave.
Offering specific information and activities that health care professionals cannot get anywhere else is a huge draw for your event. A learning opportunity that an attendee can apply directly to his or her job not only will be memorable and valuable, but also will set up your association as a knowledge center.
At the American Society of ExtraCorporeal Technology International Conference, attendees participated in interactive workshops that demonstrated the use of various pieces of equipment necessary for perfusionists — health care professionals who operate the machine that does the work of a patient’s heart and lungs during surgical procedures in which the heart is stopped. These sessions were intentionally small so more participants could receive one-to-one training.
Many health care professionals, such as nurses, technicians and lab assistants, are the unsung heroes of the medical profession. Offering VIP treatment will make them feel welcomed from the first point of contact through the closing event. Not only will the special attention generate excitement, but it also will foster loyalty for your organization and event.
For example, assemble a group of event ambassadors (we called ours The Welcome Committee) at the registration area during peak arrival times to help make the check-in process go as smoothly as possible. Complete the “red carpet” experience with light refreshments and local hospitality to make a memorable first impression. Don’t forget to include your vendors in The Welcome Committee, giving them the opportunity to initiate relationships immediately.
During a health care convention, attendees are busy learning from early morning to late evening with little time to explore the location of the event. Because of this, consider the location and how to work with local business owners, destination management companies, celebrity chefs and athletes, or even musicians, dancers, artists and other types of entertainers to deliver memorable experiences that complement the region, local culture, food or well-renowned area attractions.
For example, to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of host city Seattle, the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates worked with a local talent agency to secure actual street musicians to perform for the closing celebration. An electric violinist greeted attendees at the entrance, and throughout the venue were coffee shop-style guitarists and roaming flutists. Underground DJs inspired (and challenged!) everyone to get on their feet and dance to alternative club remixes and progressive house music. The team also brought in some humorous fish mongers from the Public Market who entertained the attendees. The evening was exciting and edgy — and under budget!
Create a space and activities that encourage vendors and attendees to interact in ways that won’t violate health care regulations. For instance, you can offer educational programs on your show floor — usually a big DO NOT — by providing a walkway with well-placed draperies that won’t require attendees to walk by vendor booths. This simple solution enables those in attendance who aren’t restricted to still access the exhibit hall, while shielding those who are restricted.
Also, ditch the old passport-to-prizes trade show game and create a new one. One association commemorated its anniversary celebration with a spinoff of the game Clue called “Who Stole the Anniversary Diamonds?” Participating exhibitors were the “rooms,” and each exhibitor had a card with one of three categories: items, places and people. Attendees went to exhibitors to collect cards, and once they had a card in each category attendees turned in their “whodunit” for a raffle.
At its Annual Congress, the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses team holds an Ortho Olympics on the show floor in a central lounge area called The Joint Connection. Early-career orthopaedic nurses compete in team challenges to see who is the fastest to build skeletons and put casts on each other. The event brings nearly all attendees to the show floor to cheer for their teams.
Attendees often can experience a sense of “burn out” after the second 15-hour day of nonstop education programs and networking. Plan to break up the schedule with a game that will re-energize attendees while testing their knowledge. Make the games easy to play, without complicated instructions or questions that are too difficult to answer.
With the goal of involving more students in its organization, the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association created Spirit Day, complete with college comfort food, music and activities tailored for teaching students. The day culminates in the Praxis Bowl, a trivia contest based on the Praxis Test, which is part of the certification process for speech language pathologists. Praxis Bowl winners receive waivers for exam fees. Just before the Praxis Bowl begins, event organizers stage a pep rally outside the ballroom doors. When the doors open, 600 students race to get the best seats to watch their friends compete in the bowl.
Regardless of the method of delivery — games, general sessions, breakouts, excursions, learning lounges, lightning rounds or teambuilding exercises — find the right mix that will engage health care professionals, provide unique ideas for patient care and create memorable experiences. AC&F