Planning with Purpose: Strengthening the Star of the North Meeting

Planning with Purpose: Strengthening the Star of the North Meeting

The Editors:

Next month marks the opening of pre-registration for the 2011 Star of the North Meeting. However, long before the doors to the 2010 meeting were opened, planning for the 2011 meeting had begun, and the Minnesota Dental Association’s Scientific Session Committee is now finalizing much of the minutiae that goes into planning for such a large event. To help us plan for the future, we look to the past via a “post-meeting survey”, and the compilation of responses to the “tell us what you think” question is always an interesting read. Unfortunately, we have begun to see patterns of misunderstanding in the responses, which in turn tend to manifest themselves into the belief systems of our attendees and can impact their enjoyment of the meeting. The volunteer dentists who make up the Scientific Session Committee spend almost two years carefully planning each meeting. Finding that some of our attendees feel we don’t pay attention to their concerns, therefore, is something we want to address. Hopefully we can dispel some of the “myths and legends” surrounding the Star of the North, so that everyone has an understanding of the thought process that goes into the planning of a meeting this size.

Registration Fees
The decision to begin charging for registration was a difficult one. As with everything else, the cost of putting on a premier regional meeting has gone up. The Star of the North is a self-sustaining meeting and receives no support from member dues. Conversely, any profits made from the Star of the North are returned to the Minnesota Dental Association to help keep dues as low as possible. MDA members still attend for free; non-member dentists are charged $795 to attend. Regardless of any registration or course fees, coming to the Star of the North still affords attendees the lowest cost, high quality, live continuing education resource in the region. Our fees have been carefully compared to other state dental conferences and have proven to be among the lowest available.

In particular, the $20 onsite registration fee is necessary to cover the costs of hiring temporary workers, plus shipping in all the printers and computers to handle onsite requests. The cost of these services should be borne by the people who create the necessity. That fee is easily avoidable by registering online during the three-month pre-registration period beginning in January.

Going Green
The SSC received a variety of constructive feedback regarding the change to online handouts in 2010. The decision was not primarily based on cost, but on waste. For every program, the committee had to estimate how many people may register onsite. Therefore, handouts were printed in quantities based upon room capacity and not actual need. Some attendees would take a handout and then toss it in the trash as they exited the room, some never took one, and some took the handout and wrote lengthy notes on it. After the program, we would dispose of cases of unused handouts in addition to the handouts that were thrown away or left behind by attendees. By providing handouts online, attendees have the option of printing them, saving them to a computer for reference later, or never bothering to look at them at all. Only the people who really want a hard copy will go through the process of printing.

The “green” initiative is a world-wide phenomenon, and most businesses are assessing their impact on the environment and making positive changes where possible. It began with online banking, electronic airline tickets, and reusable grocery store bags, and has now moved into the continuing education arena. This was not a calculated effort to shift the costs of printing to attendees, but a way of putting attendees in control of the decision to print or not to print.

As this was the first year of “going green”, the SSC realized there are ways to make some improvements. Handouts will be shorter, available in smaller files that are easily downloaded, and we will do our best to make sure the speaker only includes pertinent and succinct information, not just a copy of their PowerPoint slides.

Scientific Session Committee members travel around the country to some of the largest dental meetings to listen to and review hundreds of speakers and subject matter. We look for speakers to present on new techniques or research, specialty topics, or simply for someone with a dynamic presentation on a practical subject. The committee looks for topics that would appeal to dentists, specialists, hygienists, assistants, office managers, and all other dental professionals. The speaking program is carefully balanced so that everyone should find something interesting every day.

It is up to the speaker to design his or her own program — we contract for a three-hour session and do not interfere in the method of presentation. We recommend that speakers provide for scheduled breaks, have handouts of fewer than ten pages, and do not go over their time limit. Unfortunately, not all speakers take our suggestions to heart. While it might make some uncomfortable, there is nothing stopping a participant from approaching a Speaker Host or Room Host to request a break or request a change in the room temperature. These volunteers are in charge of keeping the session comfortable and timely for everyone.

Additionally, credits for individual courses are based upon the course outline and are pre-approved by the Minnesota Board of Dentistry. If the subject matter does not meet the Rules of Professional Development, we cannot offer credit. As per the Rules, if an attendee does not agree with our assessment, he or she is free to claim credits in a different manner. However, there is no guarantee the Board will accept anything other than what is printed on the transcript.

Free Classes
If you have already scanned the Preliminary Program, which is included within this issue of Northwest Dentistry, you may have noticed one of the biggest changes is that free classes are no longer being offered. Instead, the Star of the North will be offering a selection of low-cost $10 classes throughout the three-day scientific session. This change has been evaluated and discussed for years. There are several reasons to support this change:
• We can adjust the pricing of other paid classes to make them more affordable to more people. In past years, the prices of the paid programs had to offset the cost of the free classes. This year, you will see lower prices on lectures that are more in line with fees across the country for similar courses, making them more accessible to a greater number of people.
• It will allow more people the opportunity to order program tickets. Many people sign up for free classes (taking an available seat out of inventory) and then do not show up because there is no “investment” on the part of the attendee. When a class is “sold out” prior to the meeting, but we are able to seat 150 people on a walk-in basis, we know that at least 100 pre-registered people neglected to show up and claim their seats. This creates a frustrating experience for you as an attendee and an even greater challenge for us as planners of the meeting.
• It will make your attendee experience more pleasant. Next year there will be no more waiting in the “stand by” line for an hour, just hoping to get an unclaimed seat. No need to skip the Keynote or the Exhibit Floor because you are trying to get into a free program. By charging a fee for all the programs, it will guarantee your seat. You won’t need to stand in any lines prior to the class — simply show your ticket to the host at the door, enter, and select your seat. Running late? Can’t find a parking spot? No worries. If you have a ticket for the class, your seat will be saved. Tickets for any programs that still have availability will be sold in onsite registration.
• These low price classes will not fill as quickly as in years past. Again, many people immediately signed up for free classes, not based upon content, interest, or even definite attendance plans, but solely because the class was free and they wanted to secure a seat “just in case”. This year, when a class gets close to filling a room during pre-registration, we can confidently move it to a larger space whenever possible because we know the people who are signing up are going to show up onsite and be interested in the material being presented.
• It will eliminate completion code sharing. The most disappointing discovery from the 2010 meeting was the number of people who claimed credit for programs they did not attend. When 450 people claim credit for a class that had a maximum capacity of 380, we know people are cheating the system. This reflects poorly on the entire dental profession in Minnesota. Changing to all paid classes eliminates this problem and helps us to maintain the integrity of the meeting. Simply put, if you have not purchased a ticket for the program, the CE system will not allow you to claim credit for the class.

The Future
The Scientific Session Committee never stops looking for ways to improve the Star of the North Meeting and make it a meeting worth attending. The changes we make are carefully evaluated and considered before they are ever implemented, and they are designed to maximize the experience for our attendees. The Scientific Session Committee is very proud of the Star of the North Meeting, and as an MDA member, you should be proud too. It is recognized nationally for its quality, value, and atmosphere.

Dental professionals travel from all over the United States and Canada to attend YOUR meeting. We are dedicated to our goal of providing a premier dental meeting and will continue to listen to our attendees’ suggestions and comments to help us reach that goal

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