The thirteen regional chapters of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists spend a lot of time and money planning annual meetings intended to hold the interest of attendees while also maintaining the overall focus: educational value.
No matter the chapter history or volume of membership, the overall goals of the chapter meeting and methods of reaching those goals remain similar.
“Our view is that the regional meetings are the same as the annual meeting for the Academy and that the key is having good education,” Peter Rosenstein, executive director for the Academy, said. “The Academy asks that our chapter meetings make room on their agenda for an Academy board member to speak to update the chapter members on what’s happening on a national level.”
Aside from this request, the Academy does not preserve any additional control over the individual chapter proceedings.
But how does a meeting go from plan to action? O&P Business News reached out to each chapter president to take a look at their inside track to planning regional meetings, what works for them and what they have found to be most valuable in the past.
A motivated executive board
One commonality among the chapters is the understanding that to pull off a successful meeting, the chapter officials need to be motivated and on-point. From finding meeting space to seeking energetic and enlightening speakers, these individuals invest months of their time to make sure meetings go off without a hitch.
For example, in the Texas chapter, the president elect is responsible for deciding on the program’s final content.
“It is that person’s responsibility to go and gather various speakers that their timetable will allow them to speak during the time that we have scheduled,” Cindy Hooper, CPO, LPO and president of the Texas chapter of the Academy said.
But that does not mean everyone else is off free and clear. An annually modified and detailed task schedule outlines the responsibilities of each officer.
“Sometimes people don’t understand when we need forms or documents for the meeting and how it should all flow and I [wrote] it all down so that people can look and check off the list and make sure that we have everything that we need prior to arrival,” Hooper said.
Nathan Seversky, CP, president of the New England chapter of the Academy, said they begin planning the annual November meeting in January.
Similarly Frank Zingales, CP, president of the Ohio chapter, said that his group of officers meets at a central location with ideas that have been months in the making.
“Each board member has specific tasks to execute and a time frame for completion,” Zingales said. “We support each other along the way with secondary choices if something falls through.”
Meeting coverage areas
How is the meeting coverage selected? O&P rapidly changes and selecting the correct topics and speakers is vital in delivering meaningful education as well as keeping attendees coming back year after year.
Many chapters take their cues from the Academy’s Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium as well as other professional outlets.
“We read the magazines and journals to see what new discussion there is and try to put our thumb on what is new this year, what is different, what do we feel our profession as a whole needs work on and we try to then find relevant speakers for those topics,” Seversky said.
Cynthia Minelli, CPO, president of the New Jersey chapter, explained that they have successfully incorporated practitioner experiences into the program by allowing them to share and troubleshoot with other members of the industry in a workshop setting.
“This way it is one-on-one,” Minelli said. “We are giving practical experience to the practitioners who are attending.”
The same is true in Ohio where Zingales explained they are always looking for local, talented practitioners who “have vast knowledge in certain areas.”
“It is a little bit of work, but it is well worth it,” he said.
When deciding on coverage areas keep your audience in mind.
“We have to make sure that we cater …to our exhibitors and… speakers… and first and foremost make sure that the clinicians who are attending the meeting are getting their educational needs met,” Seversky said.
Arranging the meeting timeline can be just as large a project as securing speakers.
The Ohio chapter was the only one that reported holding two annual meetings – a scientific fall meeting and a technical spring meeting.
At the technical meeting, grand sessions are held in the morning, leaving the afternoon available for breakout sessions.
“We have breakout sessions where we have rooms set up for orthotics, prosthetics, pedorthics and technical to give the technicians a chance to get some education as well,” Zingales said. “In those sessions, we have four or five classes and it gives the attendees the option to choose what they want.”
At the New Jersey meeting, the schedule has been changed over the last few years to better suit attendees, changing from ending Saturday midday in 2005, to end of day Friday in 2006. At the most recent meeting, workshops were held on the first day, scientific sessions on the second and the conference concluded mid-day following Friday’s symposiums.
“People didn’t want to give up their whole weekend,” Minelli said. “Last year we [held] a half day Saturday and we [decided to] move it back a day and that seems to be working out well.”
Also, do not be afraid to let loose and have a little fun. Themed cocktail parties are always a nice way to socialize while also letting your silly side come through.
Practitioners attend annual meetings for more than just education credits. It is also a chance to socialize within their regional O&P communities and hosts should do their best to see that this socialization is encouraged.
Importance of member feedback
Soliciting attendee feedback is vital in establishing a healthy succession. What did attendees value most about the meeting? Did the chapter implement any changes – how were they received? Feedback offers direction for the following year’s meeting planning and should lead to the making of a bigger and better conference annually. Finding a way to obtain this information can be tricky.
“Participants do not get their certificates unless they fill out the critiques,” Minelli said. “They are important to us and sometimes we get our topics from the suggestions [of] members or attendees.”
And do not stop at asking for critiques of the completed meeting but ask for suggestions for the following year.
“It is important to us to understand what our constituents are looking for in terms of educational needs,” Seversky said.
He also mentioned getting exhibitors’ feedback as well.
“At the end we have an exit interview to determine new innovations that will be relevant in the coming year so we can plan accordingly,” Seversky said.
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Jennifer Hoydicz is a staff writer for O&P Business News.