This is the second post in our “Executive Perspectives” series where we talk to association executives about opportunities and challenges the pandemic presented, how they’re creating value for their members and what lies ahead.
In this interview, we sat down with Beth Hayson, Associate Executive Director, Continuing Education, Meetings and Exhibitions of The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS).
Even before the pandemic disrupted how everyone does business, AAOMS was on the move.
The association serves more than 9,000 oral and maxillofacial surgeons in the U.S., and its annual member meeting is a significant part of their offering. So, it’s critical that they continually assess whether the event is meeting attendee and member expectations and delivering value. The team is regularly asking: how can we add value for our members? How can we do the things we do best, better?
In fact, a few years before COVID-19 was even on the world’s radar – they were worried about the traditional exhibit hall experience getting stale. To ensure that wasn’t the case, the team began looking at and understanding key performance indicators for the industry and exploring how they could innovate and incorporate more technology to bring a better return on investment for their exhibiting partners (and the members that do business with them).
When the 2020 shutdown happened, those efforts set them up to quickly design and execute a more interactive, inclusive and engaging all-virtual meeting experience.
Setting the stage for smart decision making
The summer of 2020 caused AAOMS to adapt faster than ever. Before they made any other big decisions, the association created two special committees: one to focus on COVID policies and procedures and the other to plan and expedite the annual meeting.
“Having those groups, each with its own unique purpose, ensured everything we did was not simply in reaction to something else, but was with our members and their needs in mind. Our membership couldn’t shut down or work from home; they were on the front lines. That meant we had to act quickly to make sure they had every update, resource and recommendation to keep themselves and their patients safe.”
Diving head-first into virtual
Like many other associations, AAOMS made the snap decision to move their annual membership conference to an online format. In less than three months, they not only transitioned the entire team to a remote work format, but they planned and executed what would be one of the association’s most successful annual meetings ever, on a platform that was totally new to everyone.
For that first digital conference, they used as much new technology as possible, with a focus on making their membership the priority. This included making their entire on demand catalog of education free to their already loyal membership base. To increase audience engagement and make sure the meeting was valuable for attendees, they combined several meetings into one to have a broader base and include more expertise. For example, they recruited Jay Leno and Dr. Fauci to make appearances to provide some comedic relief and COVID-specific education; had both live and pre-recorded sessions; and extended the conference to ten days to give everyone the time they needed to adjust and get the most out of the content.
“This first foray into the world of virtual events worked really well for us. In fact, we had the highest percentage of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons members attend in our 104-year history.”
The digital format was so successful that AAOMS is committed to continue along this path by integrating virtual aspects in all future meetings. With a remote option, those unable to travel for any reason can access content that helps them do their jobs – and serve their patients – better, which is a key reason AAOMS exists. “I can’t see doing it any other way moving forward.”
Evaluating priorities for the future
At the end of 2020, the team did a deep dive survey with their members to ensure AAOMS was addressing their needs and meeting – and hopefully exceeding – their expectations.
“Education is at the forefront of everything we do, and we found that our members value modern delivery of that information. We took that feedback seriously; our team members are now certified Digital Event Strategists, and we keep our content fresh by creating shorter, TED Talk-style sessions and offer technology-forward options for delivery.”
In addition to the member survey, AAOMS spent time reviewing what did and didn’t work at that 2020 all-virtual event. They discovered that not every experience can be simulated through technology, and not every technology was worth the budget dollars they put behind them. For example, live streaming several session rooms resulted in record-breaking attendance, but the virtual exhibit hall was less successful. Additionally, we learned that we had great success with our on-demand content. Access to recorded sessions was so well received, we ended up extending this option the following year until Dec. 31.
The global shift in the way the association does business proved that they could adapt fast and make changes with their members at the center of every decision. Looking ahead, it is important for them to constantly reevaluate what they’re doing as an organization and how that impacts membership. For example, they will seek out the kind of technology that furthers their group mission, but can’t add every bell and whistle every time, just to check a box.
“As we return to more in-person events, we have to be strategic about how to facilitate the best experience for both our on-site crowd and the digital audience. And, as technology gets better, we have to get better along with it. That means challenging ourselves to think differently and evolve in ways that elevate the services we provide.”
Being agile as an organization means making smart choices that give members the most value, provide education opportunities, preserve the specialty of oral and maxillofacial surgery, and ultimately, give patients access to surgeons who are fulfilled, prepared and at their best. Adaptability has been part of AAOMS since long before the pandemic, and this skillset will serve its members as they move into an unknown future.
More from “Executive Perspectives”
[Part One] with Kerry Crockett, CEO of Insurance Accounting and Systems Association (IASA).
[Part Three] with Jennifer Tomb, CAE, CEM, CMP, director of meetings and exhibits for the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).
[Part Four] with Jay Brodsky, former Chief Digital Officer for the American Geophysical Union (AGU)