To get the most out of an annual meeting, open your mind to the possibilities
Throughout the year, I’m honored to be able to spend time with doctors and share new thoughts and ideas during such annual meetings as the ADA, Chicago Midwinter, and Hinman.
by Mark E. Hyman, DDS, MAGD
Throughout the year, I’m honored to be able to spend time with doctors and share new thoughts and ideas during such annual meetings as the ADA, Chicago Midwinter, and Hinman. These meetings provide great opportunities to learn, grow, and stretch to reinvent our practices and ourselves. The principle of delivering high-quality care to patients hasn’t changed, but almost everything else in dentistry has. So, where do we learn about new ideas, products, and technology? There are a lot of different resources - industry journals, study clubs, sales reps, and CE courses - but annual meetings provide unique opportunities to experience new ideas and technological advances.
Often, while you’re sitting in a course, a speaker will talk about new ideas and encourage you to think differently, perhaps try a new technology and apply it in a way you had never considered. Then, you can go from the lecture hall to the exhibit hall, find the product, and try it out for yourself. The challenge is, with so many courses to attend and exhibits to see, to uncover the “big idea” that will grow your practice or enhance your efficiency. Planning is the key to getting the most out of the meeting and exhibit experience.
Who should go to the big show?
Dentistry has become very sophisticated with computers, wireless and chairside intraoral camera technology, CAD/CAM, and the Internet. There are so many changes happening so fast that as doctors, we owe it to ourselves to slow down and reinvent ourselves. One of the tragedies of dentistry is the high level of burnout experienced by doctors and teams. Attending annual meetings is one way to avoid this and give yourselves and your teams the time to dream, learn, think, and visualize what’s possible.
Some of you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to send my team out of town for a big meeting. With the cost of travel and closing the practice and losing production for a few days, it’s just too expensive.” When I hear doctors say they can’t afford to invest in their teams this way, I want to thank them, because I know their talented people will leave that practice and may come work for me.
There is great wisdom in a doctor who invests in his or her team, who knows these hard-working men and women are professionals who should be treated as such. And, sending your team to a major meeting is the best money you’ll ever spend, with your return on investment far outweighing the actual cost of the trip.
Let me give you an example of how this type of investment pays off well after a show is over. Let’s say that the team attends a meeting and discovers one good product or service that will eliminate $100 worth of inefficiency per day. Now, most doctors work about 200 days a year. If we do the math, we realize this is a $20,000 idea. Now, what happens if we send five team members and each one gets a $100 a day idea? That’s a $100,000 difference in your practice without hiring new people and possibly without making a major equipment purchase.
It’s just a matter of figuring out how to work smarter. Now, how much does it cost to take your team to the meeting? It breaks my heart to see the high turnover at dental practices. I think this excessive turnover is partly because dentists don’t invest enough in their teams. We meet constantly in my practice, including morning huddles, monthly two-hour staff meetings, and frequent lunch and learns. In addition, I take my team on one dream trip a year. It’s my investment in them.
The benefits are huge - for them and for me
Team-building - When we go on our dream trip, we go first-class. When we get the team out of the office and share experiences, we grow closer as people and as a team.
Problem solving - Seminars and exhibits provide an opportunity for teams to identify new ways of solving existing problems. If everyone on a team constantly used their problem-solving talents, imagine the level of patient care that could be delivered.
Expand their technical expertise - I’m a huge proponent of hands-on courses. If you want to see an exponential change in the profitability and enjoyment of your practice, I recommend you stop doing non-CEO work. As the executive officer, why would you do a procedure that a team member could do as well, if not better than you? Use the seminars and courses to increase the technical skills of your team and see how this will positively impact your profitability.
Increase self-esteem - Nothing impacts a team member’s self-esteem more than being trusted. When the doctor says, “I trust you as a professional and want to invest in you,” the effect on that team member is huge. Your payoff is the increased value the team member will bring to the practice.
Planning for the big show to optimize opportunity
These types of meetings are often seen as more of a social event than a forum to learn, discover, and grow, and I think that’s a shame. Although socializing and having fun should be part of the experience, the doctor and team are there to reinvent themselves and bring back a higher level of care to their patients. Preparing yourself and the team for the show requires pre-planning. First, plan and schedule courses that sound intriguing. Stretch yourselves and listen to someone you’re not familiar with or to a topic that may not seem very appealing.
How can you discover what you don’t know if you don’t do things differently every once in a while? Once you’ve planned your CE courses and seminars, reserve blocks of time for the exhibit hall to investigate the new technologies, products, and services you’ve learned about in class.
Before my team packs and leaves for the show, I reserve time the Monday following our return to meet and discuss what we’ve learned. At this two-hour lunch meeting, each team member is responsible for presenting five ideas, or pearls they learned that will make us a better practice. Having set the meeting and clarified each team member’s role in that meeting gives them purpose and direction for the show and minimizes non-productive socializing.
Many doctors plan their route in the exhibit hall, targeting only those companies and products they “need.” It’s true that many manufacturers who participate in meetings introduce new products or offer exceptional buying opportunities that are not to be missed. So before you leave for the show, go online or look at the exhibit guide to locate those companies with whom you partner. You may want to contact your sales representative to find out what his or her company will be introducing or offering at the show.
But the idea of planning around major manufacturers is effective, if and only if your time in the exhibit hall is scarce. Because I have found that if you over plan, you miss out on the true benefits and new ideas waiting to be discovered at the exhibit hall.
Opening day means opening your mind
At the exhibit hall, the best way for you and your team to learn, grow, and stretch is to use a tried and true business management philosophy - MBWA (Management By Wandering Around). In my seminars I talk about the doctor as the leader, the first one in the office in the morning walking around and checking the whole experience of the office - from toilet paper, magazines, plants, and music - to ensure a quality experience for patients. Similarly, if you go to the exhibit hall with an open mind and just wander around, you’ll find unbelievable ways to reinvent yourself and your practice.
Instead of being complacent and saying, “That’s the way it’s always been done,” seek out the new and extraordinary. Dentistry is changing very fast. Unfortunately, by the time you buy and learn the latest technology, it may be obsolete. Some of the things touted on the show floor as the “next big thing” will bomb. But some have the potential to change your life. Be open to the new and the improved. For example, the CEREC 1 was a great first attempt. CEREC 2 and 3 were monumental improvements, but the CEREC 3-D is like the difference between a 10-speed bicycle and a Porsche.
In addition to the formal courses, another way to learn and grow is by talking to the dental leaders and your peers informally at the show. These great individuals often make themselves available and are happy to chat informally. Ask them what trends they are observing, what products or services they recommend. How are they using the newest technology? Learn from their successes, and then think about how you can apply their wisdom to your personal and practice philosophy.
And finally, as you and your team wander the exhibit floor, take advantage of the free resources. For example, CareCredit makes available at annual meetings a library of audio programs featuring leaders in dentistry on topics such as managing overhead, hiring and training, increasing production, and CAD/CAM technology. And they’re free for the asking. As you’re looking at new equipment and technology, remember it’s just as important to uncover ways to enable patients to get the dentistry done, such as offering payment plans. By increasing your treatment acceptance, you’ll have many more opportunities to apply the new learning and utilize the products you purchased and brought back to the practice.
After the show
The benefits and learning acquired at annual meetings don’t end once the show closes. One of the biggest mistakes dentists make is buying new technology or products without a plan for integrating them into the practice. In the second article in this series, I will discuss how to bring new ideas back to the practice, fire up the team to embrace change, and set the stage for success.
Dr. Mark E. Hyman is a renowned dentist and public speaker whose work is characterized by his warmth, enthusiasm, sense of humor, and passion for dentistry. A native of Greensboro, N.C., Dr. Hyman received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his dental degree from the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. Dr. Hyman has lectured throughout North America, and has frequently been noted as a top speaker at his engagements. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.