Reflecting on the last three years, I feel that 2023 was as close to “the good ‘ole days” (pre-Covid) as we’ve had in comparison to 2020, 2021 and 2022; meaning in-person meetings were not bombarded with heavy restrictions and the process/flow felt “normal” again.
However, it’s also safe to say that there has been an irreversible impact that we simply have to face and make necessary adjustments; not only to the meeting landscape, but to the makeup of the DPM.
So what do we know?
There are a lot of factors, but let’s talk about a few biggies.
Let’s start with the viability of online meetings. Looking at the 2024 schedule, there has been a shift in the abundance of online meetings. Yes, many meetings are still implementing a hybrid model (in-person with a virtual option), but it appears that the profession has collectively pushed away from the overthrowing of in-person meetings.
This isn’t to say online meetings don’t hold value or popularity. When speaking with younger physicians and physicians with families (keep in mind the female DPM population is growing and many of them are having babies), we gain consistent feedback that online meetings are more convenient than the alternative; but nobody denies that face-to-face meetings create a more immersive experience.
What can we do with this information? Consider removing the online option for your annual, “big time” event and reserve online activities for 1-4 hour CME events. This can satisfy the different needs of DPMs, as well as your vendors who depend on face-to-face interaction.
Next, body counts are going down. Whether it’s because there are online options or the DPM population is not growing exponentially, we have seen over the last few years that huge spaces are getting harder and harder to fill. Plus, large spaces are expensive and nothing is getting cheaper.
If DPM bodies aren’t filling large conference centers, the exhibitor counts are going to dwindle as well; after all, they need foot traffic to have a chance at covering their costs.
NOTE: If online meetings do decrease, body counts may rise.
So if you have a huge space already contracted for the next year or two, eliminating online options is probably a necessity to ensure on-site attendance. If you don’t have anything nailed into a contract yet for the future, think about tighter spaces and squeeze ’em in. You will save dollars on the space without having to decrease vendor fees. If you keep larger spaces, vendor fees will rise and it’s likely several will not be able to budget for the increasing costs.
If you are noticing a lower number of exhibitors but you still have to fill a huge space, throw them a bone and give each exhibitor a little more room to showcase. I mean, if you have the space and it’s not filled; what’s the harm of having those that are showing up fill it up at no extra cost to them? Those ballroom fees are going to exist whether you give them another few feet or not.
Membership buy-in is uncertain. Many meetings have lower registration fees if the DPM is a member of a specific organization relevant to the event. However, young professionals (in any/all industries; this is not specific to podiatry) are not joining / re-joining professional memberships.
There are pros and cons to this trend as a meeting organizer.
The con is pretty obvious; if there aren’t members of the meeting organization, the low-hanging fruit of attendees is no longer low-hanging fruit. But, this also means that there are less dollars “left on the table” from discounted registrations. This also provides an opportunity to recruit attendees from outside the traditional organization and get “new blood” to your event. This could also create more interest for specific vendors.
Ultimately, there are a LOT of positive trends happening for meetings if you can sift through all the variables and find ways to make the reality work for you.
This is not unique to meetings. Avoid getting caught up in panicked and chaotic conversations that deter you from making progress. Instead, observe the patterns and the trends, accept them, and make it work.