Tuesday, November 4, 2014

After the conference: Ideas from the 2014 ASET annual conference evaluations

So, I spend a couple of weeks after the annual conference tallying the scores that our attendees give for each lecture they attended.  This is very valuable information for me.  It helps me decide who to put on my high priority invitation list, and provides overall insights into what our conference attendees think of their learning experience, and other things about the meeting:  the venue, the food, the social events.  I compose a letter to each faculty member, including their overall average score and a sampling of comments from their audience.  We have great speakers but it takes a lot to get up and talk in front of over 100 people!  Fear of public speaking is sited as second only to fear of death!  So I appreciate it when attendees offer constructive comments and kindness in their remarks.
There is a second evaluation form that we ask attendees to fill out; more about what they want from a conference, their thoughts on the meeting space, and the like.  This form also includes demographics about our attendees: their location, type of work, reason for attending.  As I read through the 303 evaluations I received, I saw trends in the comments, some inspiring ideas and some suggestions that I would like to reply to in a general way.
Forty percent of our attendees preferred resort properties for our conference location, followed by urban locations then family destinations.  But many of the same attendees who checked off resort properties commented that the dining options on-site were too expensive, and it was not convenient to get to the downtown area for less expensive dining.  The quandary is that often resorts are more isolated and they are likely to have limited dining options on site.  To achieve an abundance of choices for dining in walking distance, an urban hotel is the best bet.  We try to alternate between each type of meeting venue, to provide variety over time.
Some attendee comments that I would like to address:
“Have a social event or lunch with people grouped by regions so we can meet other technologists from our area”.  This is a great idea!  We already have a special interest section lunch, where people can meet others with a common interest.  So it would be easy to designate regions at tables for another lunch or come up with a way to find colleagues from your region at a social event.
“Include an opportunity for students to meet and greet.”  This is also a great idea.  We had 11 students attending this year.  It could be as simple as helping them find each other with a sign on a table for them too!
“Add IONM hands-on workshops(One suggesting a needle placement workshop.  Ouch!).  We don’t have medical simulation mannequins and I can’t imagine anyone volunteering to be the subject for this workshop!  Many of the aids we use to monitor cases during surgery are not something that an awake subject would want to experience!  Any ideas for a non-invasive IONM workshop would be welcome!
“Include dinners in the conference program as well as breakfast and lunch”  This one is also very difficult.  While it would provide a convenient meal to attendees on a resort property, the reason we avoid serving an evening meal is because of the expense.  The average hotel meeting continental breakfast (we are talking rolls, juice and coffee) costs about $24 per person.  The coffee at break costs 80 to 90 dollars per gallon.  A sandwich lunch costs $35 per person.   A plated or buffet dinner is easily $60 per person.  We would have to raise the registration fee significantly to cover that cost.  So, we try to keep costs down and limit evening food, and hope that attendees enjoy exploring the local dining scene.
“Offer full day Board Prep Courses for EEG and other topics”.  We try to offer courses and lectures that have broad appeal.  The profile of the average ASET conference attendee is not an entry level person, but a technologist with quite a few years in the field, who has multiple credentials and is seeking CEUs for recertification. These folks are seeking learning challenges and new information.  So we provide lectures with excellent clinical information, of help to both the beginner and the seasoned technologist. We welcome students and new technologists but technologists who are entry level are less likely to have expenses paid by an employer and they also have less income to spare, so cannot always come to the annual conference.  For our Board Prep educational opportunities, we can offer a less expensive option by hosting two-day seminar courses separate from the annual conference.  We can use hospital conference space instead of expensive hotel meeting space and find nearby inexpensive hotel rooms to help our members save money.
Some comment “shorter breaks” and others “longer breaks”  The exhibit hall breaks are one hour long to allow people to explore exhibits and talk with vendors.  We could not put on a conference without the financial support of our vendors.  In return for that support, they appreciate the opportunity to network with potential customers and show you their latest innovations.  We also have our poster abstracts on display during breaks in the exhibit hall.  This qualifies as continuing education so what many attendees don’t know is that they get one CEU for each hour long exhibit hall break.
Chatting with a poster author can be a great learning experience

“Spread conference out over four days”  We had four-day conferences until 2012.  We decided to try the compressed three day program because we heard from members that they had difficulty getting extra time off to be at a conference for four days, challenges covering lab services or just being away from home.  In general, we have received very positive feedback about our three day format.
I appreciate all of the comments I receive.  It helps us create a new and better experience every year.  I just wanted to take some time to explain why some things are done the way they are.  As we plan for next year, we will take all comments to heart and try to bring you a new and exciting event!

See ya in Weston, Florida!

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