Hosting a Conference “Add-On” Event | SAM2022 Recap | Feb. 2022

SAM 2022 offered a new opportunity for exhibitors – Innovation Theaters. These were 30-minute sessions held inside the exhibit hall throughout the day during exhibit hall hours. Most were even scheduled during lectures. Ultimately, the time allowed a specialized product demo in a designated area in the exhibit hall. Exhibitors could register for up to two 30-minute sessions in either of two Theater locations.

If you’re anything like me, you love a roadmap with specific ideas and action items. That’s what this article is, and it’s a long one. If you prefer to read just the bold text, this is for you:
TLTR (too long to read) version:
-Make it fun
-Over-communicate the message and details
-Grab attention any way you can

(By the way, we were so passionate about our ideas on how to make this work, we made a whole video about it several weeks before the conference so every exhibitor could bring their A-game at their own Innovation Theaters. If you ignored it the first time, let us know and we’ll resend it).

And Now the Long Version…

The concept of product demo areas inside the exhibit hall is not a new one. Plenty of conferences offer similar opportunities. This was our first time, as to decide to give it a whirl.

We knew when planning for SAM that our goal was to make a splash, be disruptive, and catch the attention of doctors, assistants and exhibitors that might not know who we are and that our service exists. You know what they say – no risk, no reward.

Before I go on, in an effort to keep your attention, I’ll spoil the end for you and tell you that we were blown away by the response. We had over 60 physicians attend our Innovation Theater… by far more than any other Theater session held; and since we want everyone to be a winner…
here’s our formula for success.

Weeks before the event, we thought about times we’ve seen this concept at other meetings. Memories of observing of empty seats and speakers checking their watches came to mind. I knew the only way to make this work was to go about it in a completely different way.

No attendee wants to take a break from general session lectures only to sit in on an infomercial lecture inside the exhibit hall. They need a reason to spend their valuable time with us.

We needed to make it fun. We needed every element to be fun – the title, the marketing, the content, the speakers/guests, the delivery, the energy… everything. We wanted to make this session a party of sorts.

Our plan was to avoid the traditional expected speaker at the front with an audience of chairs. We were told the area would be set up with two tables, a podium with a mic, a TV, and an audience of about 30 chairs. We decided that the first thing we would do would be to move all the chairs out of the way and avoid a speaker/audience setup. If we reduce or eliminate any kind of direct “presentation”, it will encourage passers-by to stop and interact as well as make each attendee feel welcome without pressure to buy from our participating sponsors.

Now, what would make this a party? Ah, alcohol of course!

Karen from FPMA put us in touch with the banquet coordinator at the hotel to order the refreshments. Pro tip – make sure you order the alcohol directly through the hotel. Yes, you will pay 5 times more than you should but you’re following the rules and avoiding the possibility of being shut down. BONUS – the beverages we ordered came with a super awesome bar on wheels that allowed us to make even more of an entrance and presence at the event.

Second to beer and wine, what else will bring in attendees? Giveaways! Each of our sponsor participants contributed some type of raffle prize and we brought several of our own. We raffled off gift cards, Bluetooth speakers, books, blow-dryers, services, products, promo items, hugs, the My Meeting Workbook and so much more!


“Choosing Strategic Partners for Your Practice: a speed-dating social with our favorite vendors, PLUS beer and wine!”

We knew that this title would appear in the conference program and most likely in pre-conference emails so it had to stand out from others. It needed to sound interesting and make people curious about what the heck it could be about.

Cindy Pezza, Dr. Alan Bass with Jay from PowerStep, Dan Hanley from Canodyne CBD, Sergio and Connor from Saorsa/Swift, Randy and Carol from Podiatry Content Connection, Chris from PediFix, and Vinny from Bianco Bros. Instruments.

We knew we had to include names that attendees would recognize. We leaned on our sponsors and long-time partners for help. Our initial email to each of them went something like this – “we have no idea what our plan is or if this will work but we’re hoping you’ll join us for the ride because we love you.” I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist.

We decided that the Innovation Theater could be one way for us to grab attention and get noticed. We reserved two back-to-back sessions after closely reviewing the agenda. We selected our time slot based on availability of two back-to-back sessions in the same area, the lecture schedule to avoid any showcase presentations and the availability of our speakers and guests.

We also knew that we wanted to serve alcohol. so we didn’t think a morning session would be ideal, hence, our PM session was scheduled.

I don’t remember how I landed on the idea of speed-dating; honestly, I think it came to me during a conversation with Cindy. I was looking for a structure similar to “networking” or “social” events. Thus, the speed-dating concept was born.

When our time slot started at 2pm, we started with 5 minutes of awkward silence while we waited for people to join us. Then, I found the mic and started giving away raffle prizes. Sarah ran outside the exhibit hall and lassoed DPMs just hanging out in the hall.

Once we had a decent crowd, I encouraged everyone to congregate in the center of the area. Cindy Pezza led us in a very brief (5-10 minute) discussion about the importance of the relationship between vendors and physicians. Then, we broke into small groups. Our speed-dating session consisted of each group spending two minutes with each sponsor participant giving an “elevator pitch”, then we switched, and each group moved to the next sponsor.

During the speed-dating time, I provided commentary, comic relief and welcomed passers-by to join us for a beverage and to join a group.

Sarah is actually thinking of a new career in bartending as she was an A++ server throughout the event. She has clearly mastered the art of popping bottle tops. Branded koozies were another clear winner.

After each group had rotated through the six sponsors, we broke into a very informal networking/mingling event during which we gave any plenty more prizes, sponsors followed up with interested attendees, Cindy answered practice management related questions, and we gave away every single beverage we had (68 bottles of beer and 6 bottles of wine).

Before SAM, we sent out 12 pre-event emails to SAM attendees, as well as our entire DPM database, being sure to schedule emails on the Wednesday before and the morning of the event as a last-minute reminder.

Our message changed slightly with each email, but we always made sure to mention the beverages, a recognizable name (Cindy Pezza), and giveaways. One important thing we always included was that pre-registering was not necessary. The FPMA encouraged attendees to register for each theater session but my thought was that registering could be a barrier to entry. It’s an extra step and there is a perceived level of commitment. Our message was that everyone was welcome and all you have to do is show up at 2pm.

Additionally, we had 250 paper invitations printed and distributed on Wednesday evening and throughout the day on Thursday. My pitch when handing out the invitations was, “free beer and wine in the exhibit hall at 2pm!”


  • First, it’s up to us as exhibitors to grab attention and put butts in seats.
  • Second, think outside the box and try something new.
  • Third, do not be afraid of email marketing.
    You’ll be hearing more on this topic in the next few weeks. For now, I’ll just say that the number of email reminders directly contributed to the number of participants we had. Clear communication with timely reminders is key.

After seeing our success, another company added beer and wine to their Innovation Theater program. Nice move! We should always be ready to pivot based on our environment.

Another success story I heard about was one of the sponsored lunch and learns. Attendees had a few options each day for their lunch and one company decided to encourage attendees to join them by personally inviting them as they exited the general session and headed out in search of lunch. Hey – it worked! Again, driving home our message that we as companies and exhibitors need to accept responsibility for the success of our events.

What has been your experience with these add-on events at conferences? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Email us at