June 2003 Bulletin

What should ‘Annual Meeting of the Future’ look like?

Workshop generates wide range of ideas, recommendations

2002 Academy President Vernon T. Tolo, MD, (left) shares insights on the future of the Annyal Meeting with Andrew H. Schmidt, MD, member of the Annual Meeting Committee, and SusanMcSorley, director of AAOS convention and meeting services, during a roundtable discussion at the April 17-18, 2003 workshop.

By Carolyn Rogers

From convention location to meeting duration to specialty education–every aspect of the AAOS Annual Meeting went under the microscope on April 17-18 at an Annual Meeting Committee workshop to determine the "Future of the Annual Meeting."

The largest orthopaedic educational meeting in the world is not only the Academy’s premiere educational event; it also contributes significantly to its overall finances. Given the importance of the Annual Meeting to the Academy’s long-term well being, Committee Chairman Richard F. Kyle, MD, decided to gather all the "key players" at Academy headquarters to examine every aspect of the event and make recommendations to improve its overall value to members and other attendees. Committee members, representatives of orthopaedic industry, a market research analyst, an expert in the medical meetings industry, and AAOS staff worked well into the evening sharing ideas and developing strategies.

The goal of the workshop was to improve the quality and determine the future of the Annual Meeting. Specifically, the group sought to:

Financial history, impact of international attendees

"Half of the total revenues from AAOS educational offerings come from the Annual Meeting," said Mark Wieting, AAOS vice president, education programs, who presented an overview of the financial history of the Annual Meeting.

Wieting indicated that registration fees, course tickets, newspaper advertising and grants for program segments generate significant revenue, but technical exhibits contribute the lion’s share.

International attendees represent a substantial source of revenue for the meeting. On a five-year average, international contributions represent 23 percent of all Annual Meeting revenues.

A well-known, desirable meeting location is a major factor in attracting international attendees. Committee members suggested that the AAOS look into the cost of marketing the meeting to international members from a revenue/expense standpoint in order to determine if this should be a priority.

Marketing: Focus for the future

What do people like–or not like–about the meeting? Diane Thome, AAOS marketing research manager outlined results from a focus group of 2003 meeting attendees in New Orleans, and mail surveys sent to a random sample of 6,000 Fellows.

Survey results

Eighty-six percent of 2003 attendees were satisfied with the meeting. They were most satisfied with symposia, instructional courses, Specialty Day, the preliminary program and the resource center.

The primary reasons people attend the meeting are: 1) education, 2) maintaining relationships with colleagues, 3) opportunity to see orthopaedic products and 4) recreation.

Specialists and academicians tend to be more motivated by relationships.

Non-attendees who were dissatisfied with past meetings say the meeting is too large and crowded, with too much going on. Specialists would like to see more offerings with a specialty focus.

Obstacles to attendance

Revenue loss due to days away from the practice is the primary obstacle to attendance for both attendees and non-attendees.

Non-attendees say the greatest obstacles are: 1) the size of the meeting, and 2) patient coverage issues.

Loyal attendee group shrinking

The "most satisfied" group of meeting attendees is looking for education and relationships, Thome reported. Unfortunately, this group is shrinking and aging, especially among its most loyal segment. The challenge for the AAOS is to increase the value proposition for non-attendees.

Thoughts on increasing attendance

In the ensuing discussion, workshop participants offered the following suggestions:

Future meeting trends

Barbara Connell, a medical meetings industry expert, provided an update on medical meeting trends.

In a discussion of changing demographics, Connell warned, "Membership erosion is beginning to occur because younger members do not see the same value in products, services and membership." She strongly advised the Academy to:

Comparing AAOS to other medical specialties

Susan McSorley, director of AAOS convention and meeting services, examined the meetings of several other medical societies and compared them to the AAOS. Those societies are: American Academy of Family Physicians, Radiological Society of North America, American Urological Association, American College of Cardiology and American Academy of Ophthalmology.

In terms of duration, most meetings are similar to the Academy’s four and one-half days, and the AAOS compares favorably to the other groups in terms of educational programs, registration fees, percentage of professional members as part of the entire attendance, sponsorships, exhibit costs, international attendance/fees and marketing technologies to promote the Annual Meeting. Also, five out of the six organizations offer at least one Specialty Society program.

Overall, McSorley said it’s impressive to see that while the Academy falls in line with the other organizations in most areas, it is actually one of the leaders in areas such as innovative programs, technology, and attracting technical exhibitors.

Key questions explored

Roundtable discussions delved into a number of key questions:

How does the Academy maintain the strength of the meeting and prevent fragmentation?

Among the group’s recommendations:

If the Annual Meeting were scheduled around you, what would it look like?

How can we improve our communication with members about the Annual Meeting?

What would improve your overall meeting experience?

Committee members also suggested opening the housing registration process earlier to AAOS members.

The workshop wrapped up with three breakout sessions, each addressing a topic vital to the future of the Annual Meeting.

Maintaining and increasing attendance

The group suggested that attendance could be increased in three ways: Removing obstacles; enhancing incentives; and changing the habits of people who attend every few years so that they’ll attend more often. For example:

Impact of industry: exhibiting, sponsorship and advertising

This discussion centered on partnering with industry to enhance the meeting. The resulting recommendations are:

Improving the educational experience

Suggestions for ways to improve the educational experience included:

Next steps

A report containing the Annual Meeting Committee’s recommendations is now being prepared. When it is complete, it will be submitted to the Council on Education for its review and approval. The final report then will be presented to the Board of Directors.

"Our meeting is a great one," concluded Dr. Kyle, committee chairman. "But we have to fine-tune it to keep it relevant and attractive to our members. This workshop was a great way to get input and to deliberate on improvements we need to make."

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