May 30, 2017 / Larry Sloan

What’s All This Talk about Changing AIHce?

Over the past several months, I’ve been traveling around the country visiting local sections and fielding more than a few questions about changes that have been made to AIHce. “Why was it shortened by a day?” “Why wasn’t my abstract accepted?” And so on…

With conference rapidly approaching I thought I would take this opportunity to help answer a few commonly asked questions.

First, why did we decide to change AIHce in the first place? Well, a few years back, the Board decided it was time to get a fresh perspective and learn from the success others have achieved in hosting big conferences. We engaged with two consulting firms (Velvet Chainsaw Consulting and Minding Your Business) to advise us how we could take a hallmark event and make it even better. Their guidance, plus attendee feedback from the past several years, led to our implementing the new format for AIHce 2017.

What recommended changes did we make? First and foremost, we focused on quality of education, not quantity. That meant that not every abstract submitted would be automatically accepted. We tried to look at the conference through the lens of the attendee. In an effort to reduce audio/visual costs, which were climbing at an unsustainable rate, we reduced the number of sessions and organized them into thematic tracks. We incorporated new learning formats that make adult learners be more active participants rather than just listeners. For example, you’ll see Early Riser and Late Night Learning sessions to test audience response to this new interactive learning format and unusual times (we call this experiential learning).

We also simplified the pricing model (granting a registration discount if you stayed within our hotel block) and offered group discounts to individuals registering from the same company (first time ever). As a sweetener, we bundled AIHce On Demand (session recordings) into the conference registration fee.

We also implemented some schedule changes so that various conference elements did not conflict with one another. We moved committee meetings from all day long to early morning and late afternoon, and we ensured no programming overlapped dedicated Expo time each day to allow attendees and vendors to interact. Thursday’s program was dropped because attendance had historically been extremely light. Instead, we scheduled more value-added PDCs on the back end. We’ve scheduled the popular Ignite forum as a general session to avoid competition with education sessions. Finally, we’ve added “soft skills” education opportunities, including products and services offered by AIHA and health and wellness in the Hub.

What else has changed? To help attendees feel like the conference had an official “ending,” we added a closing general session on Wednesday. We’ve improved the information and process for student posters, providing more rationale for why students should submit a proposal, and are featuring recognition of student poster award winners during Wednesday’s Mark of Excellence Breakfast.

Look for an “overflow” room into which standing-room-only sessions can be broadcast to allow more attendees to participate in sessions as they occur real-time. You’ll also see daily evaluations to encourage feedback from attendees on the sessions they attended that day (this complements the overall conference evaluation that will continue to be distributed).

So, what was dropped? We decided to cancel the President’s Reception and Past Presidents’ Forum this year. They were difficult to manage, from a traffic flow perspective, and drove up food & beverage costs significantly. However, to honor our Past Presidents, we have invited them to what we are calling a “Luminaries Luncheon” on Tuesday—to foster a bit more of an intimate affair.

What has been the impact of these changes? We have really good news to report:

  • We have the highest number of conference registrations we’ve seen in the last five years, and nearly all of our PDCs are sold out.
  • We have witnessed an increase in the number of student registrations.
  • The simplified schedule will make organizing the day easier for attendees. It’s more app-friendly and it will allow us to get better evaluation feedback on the sessions.
  • Student poster submissions rose from 40 to 95. Some submissions were rejected, but that was only after careful review and discussion by the panel.
  • Student posters were submitted online prior to conference, allowing technical committees to review and select winners prior to arriving in Seattle. In prior years the selection was done onsite and was very chaotic.
  • We promoted a registration discount to those who stayed within our hotel block, which helped us avoid attrition penalties.
  • By instituting more content-heavy, substantive emails vs. sales-y communications, we witnessed greater engagement and conversion rate through our email campaign efforts compared to both 2015 and 2016.

This being my first AIHce, I’m very much looking forward to meeting literally thousands of people, and making my rounds to the many volunteer groups scheduling meetings. Don’t be shy—if you see me darting around the Sheraton or Convention Center, stop me and say hello. Until then, rest up if you can—it’s going to be an action-packed week in Seattle! If you can’t make it to Seattle, it’s still not too late to register for Virtual AIHce EXP 2017. Learn more on the AIHce website.

Larry Sloan

Larry Sloan is AIHA’s CEO.​


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