Dentistry has gone through some gut-wrenching changes over the past decade. Dental insurance and PPOs have hammered away at profit margins, The growth of DSOs has changed how solo practice owners view competition and value their businesses, and how fresh graduates think about their career.
In the plus column, advances in technologies, materials and science have opened exciting new doors for treatment protocols, practice expansion and career paths. It has never been more important for practice owners to stay abreast of industry changes, improve clinical skills, or to understand the fundamentals that make their business profitable. At the root of all this upheaval is the critical need for broader and more relevant CE.
Dentistry is a somewhat unique profession, in that, so much practical education is gained after formal education ends. The market for CE in dentistry has matured over the past few generations, and is undergoing a revolution itself.
At the heart of dental CE has always been live events. Beginning with State dental association meetings, evolving into ever-expanding national conferences, and, most recently, very specific micro-topic events. But, as a pioneer of these live events for the past 30 years, we are seeing dramatic changes in attendance, audience demand, and the economics of producing a large event.
In the past, a dentist generally had to go to a live event to see, touch and test drive the coolest and newest. Courses and lectures, long a staple for expanding knowledge, included the best and brightest. But today, if you want to learn about new technique, material, technology, or take a pile of CE, you can do it on your phone, on your schedule, and as in-depth as you choose. Like much of today’s learning, podcasts, online articles, webinars, learning management systems, and thousands of videos can inform and educate… and provide CE credits.
Which begs the question: “Are live events even worth it anymore?” I believe they are, but only if they adapt to the new fast-paced, connected world, and provide the kind of value that you can only get in person.
When we began planning for our Annual 2018 Event, we performed extensive research. We broke dentists down into four (4) demographic groups:
Early Career: Rapid growth, high risk, heavy debt service, business building, no focus on retirement.
Stable: Stabilizing growth, declining risk, minimal unsecured debt, evolved business model, stable team, small investment in retirement.
Maturing: Predictable growth, minimal risk, minimal debt, solid business model, well-run team, actively managed retirement plan.
Sunsetting: Actively seeking exit, focus on transition, focus on practice value and buyer to fund retirement.
From an industry perspective, each group has specific CE and business needs. For example, Early-Career dentists aggressively consume CE business topics, and are in the market for equipment and systems. Sunsetting dentists generally aren’t in the market for new suppliers or systems, but spend their time and money interviewing associates, and planning retirement. The significance of each group, from the perspective of live event producers, is they can identify potential attendees, speakers, and exhibitor partners.
How to Evaluate Whether You Should Attend an Event
Focusing on you, the potential attendee, I’ve identified four questions you should answer to decide if a live event is worth your time and money.
1) How does the content align with your practice plan? Before you sign up for an event, check out the sessions and speakers, and topics. Try to choose events with a mix of highcaliber speakers you know you can learn from, and topics that address significant points you’re actively dealing with in your practice. If they offer opportunities to participate in hands-on workshops, take them. It’s the best way to absorb and retain content, and meet others you can reach out to in the weeks ahead. For most people, long, one-way lectures only have so much impact?
Take a close look at the agenda, and evaluate whether the content of those sessions align with your practice plan. Do the topics give you realistic, relevant ideas you can take back and implement in your practice immediately, make you a better clinician, or help you make better decisions for your business?
The immediate exchange and discussion of ideas with others at the same place in their career over lunch or coffee can have far more impact than scrolling through the clutter on Facebook. With regards to content, your goal for a live event should be to see industry thought leaders, maybe meet and form a professional relationship, meet other like-minded practice owners, and immerse yourself in a topic you feel will impact the profitability of your business.
2) What’s the attendee profile?
Perhaps the most valuable takeaways from a live event, that you simply cannot get from online forms of education or social media, is meet other practice owners who are in similar positions. Back to the four phases of dental careers above, how valuable would it be to hang out with a group of new dentists trying to figure out how to finance a new practice? Posting, sharing and PMing provides solid information, but nothing can replace the dynamic of personal interaction. I think this is the most fulfilling part of attending live events.
3) What are meaningful networking opportunities? So maybe you’re excited by all the attendees who are in the same boat as you, but it’s also important to consider whether the structure of the event actually provides opportunities to interact with them. Some events focus on the content, some focus on the networking opportunities – and the best ones focus on both.
If you’re in this for the networking opportunities, check to see that the agenda includes social events that encourage making new friends with attendees, speakers and exhibitors. That can mean long breaks in between sessions, evening receptions, or the chance to talk to speakers after their presentations. The best live events are structured to give speakers and attendees plenty of opportunities to meet.
4) How do the content, ideas, and new relationships help shape your practices future?
Let’s face it, attending live events can be expensive. Tuition, travel and time away from your practice should all be considered part of the ROI of attending. But, more importantly, how will attending impact your Top Line?
Dr. Chris Griffin told me his goal in attending live events is, “To bring back one thing that will have a direct, positive impact on my business.” Dr. Mike Abernathy expects to, “Rub shoulders with the movers and shakers in dentistry.” Our mission with our annual live event has always been just that… to send attendees home energized and ready to invest in the profitability of their practice.
As most readers know, we will be moving our Destin Spring Break conference to Orlando, FL next year. The move is intended to make attendance more affordable, economical and available to more practice owners and their teams.
At The Profitable Dentist Conference, our goal is to appeal to dental practice owners at every stage of their career and their teams to provide speakers, networking opportunities, and entertainment that leaves attendees more informed, educated, connected and engaged than when they arrived.
Our average attendee is performing in the top 10% of practices in the nation by every measure, production, cost management, new patient growth, and profitability, and we work hard to keep it that way.
When Dr. Woody Oakes began his little meeting 27 years ago in Destin, FL, he never could have imagined it would grow into the premier live event in dentistry. As the industry continues to change, and technology impact how dentists build their career, we plan to keep evolving right along with it. We can’t wait to see you Orlando in 2018!