There is a certain sense of euphoria and absolution I am feeling right now. It is the complete anthesis to the doubt and trepidation I was suffering from this morning; especially just minutes before our virtual meeting went live.
By the way, I have officially relinquished my duties as the President of the Nevada Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (NVAPD). My one year term ended earlier this month.
I have written about taking on that position in a previous post. COVID-19 created challenges this year no other president in our organization has ever had to face. I say that not to gloat; but the truth is the advocacy efforts increased tremendously, communication became far more critical, and good leadership in general becomes exponentially more difficult in times of crisis.
NVAPD annual meetings historically take place within the first few weeks of January. If you are lucky, planning that event could potentially be the ONLY responsibility the presidency title may call for. My year though, fugetaboutit. State budget cuts, PPE (personal protective equipment) shortages, disastrous legislative policies, dental office closures, the list goes on. This past year, MY year, was ridden with issues that needed to be addressed.
I do not want to insinuate that I handled these matters on my own. I had an incredibly helpful executive committee, I coalitioned (if that’s even a word) with other local dental societies, and I basically did my best to raise awareness and garner support from our members against policies that could have devastated (I mean devastated) dental coverage for underprivileged children in Nevada. That effort took a plethora of emails, some conference calls, drafting letters, making public commentaries, and conducting surveys.
So luckily for me, around October 2020, my advocacy efforts started to stabilize. Dental practices had pretty much found their footing and figured out how to stay safe opening up their office for patient care. It afforded me a chance to begin planning that upcoming NVAPD Annual Meeting I was still responsible for.
Historically, our meeting is a two-day event. Day one is generally a Basic Life Support (BLS) /Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) course in the morning, and an Infection Control class in the afternoon. Day two is typically a one-hour business meeting in the morning, followed by a full day lecture by a keynote speaker.
My to-do list was as follows: 1) find a venue 2) find speakers for each event 3) find sponsors 4) promote the event to our members and 5) host the event.
Finding “a venue” was probably the easiest item on my agenda. In the past, we have rented a small classroom at our UNLV Dental School campus for day 1’s events, and a grand ballroom at a local casino for day 2. Each year there are generally about 50-60 attendees. We normally cater breakfast and lunch both days, with snacks kind of strewn in there somewhere. In this age of social-distancing, I had but to find a virtual platform to utilize and that was it. This past year, Zoom (no financial disclosure to declare) became a household name. Although I have been an occasional attendee, I had never actually ‘hosted’ a Zoom meeting – let alone held a conference on their platform. After some perusing, researching, reading tutorials and watching demos – I signed up for their Zoom Video Webinar package, allowing up to 100 attendees. It was a little confusing at first learning the lingo (co-hosts, panelists, etc.); but once you play around with it enough, it is remarkably simple yet powerful! The invitation and registration process, branding and marketing…there really was an impressive array of features available. Other state dental societies had made their CE free this year for their members as kind of a good faith gesture; I wanted for us to be able to do the same. Fortunately, purchasing this package for a month (or two) was reasonably priced ($55/month at the time of this post) and was a cost our organization could afford to absorb (especially considering casino ballrooms can set you back upwards of 10 grand).
Finding a speaker was a little more of a challenge. For most of the courses (BLS/PALS and Infection Control), I recruited the speakers from last year and fortunately they were available to help us again this year. However, I could not just as easily reuse the keynote speaker and topic. But perhaps I put too much pressure on myself about for finding one. We are relatively limited in pediatric dentistry for the subjects we discuss (behavior management, sedation, pulp therapy, etc.). Initially I was bent on finding someone that had some notoriety in the industry and maybe even a big social media presence. The harder I looked, the more discouraged I became – especially to find many of the topics and/or speakers had already presented recently (or were about to be presenting) at other state’s conferences. To make matters worse, I spoke to two individuals prior to the end of October that ultimately ended up declining my invitation to headline our conference. My confidence shattered, I was contemplating canceling that component of our meeting. Lucky for me, in early November, a pediatric dentist in our community just happened to check in on me, and ultimately put me in touch with a friend of his from Texas that does a lot of orthodontics in his practice. Perfect!
The year 2020 surely must have been a brutal financial year for many companies. In the past, companies welcomed a chance to set up their booth in the back of our conference hall and promote their products to everyone. But we were going virtual this year. I had to get creative. I took some initiative, wrote a carefully worded letter, and created a tier for our potential sponsors; in exchange for their financial support, I tried enticing them with their company logo on our website and on our advertising emails, and even a short video of theirs played during our virtual meeting. I reached out to many of the organizations that have supported us in the past – only a small fraction of those even bothered to respond to my email, and all that did informed me they were suspending such activity this year. So, that was a fruitless effort. I did manage to secure one dental anesthesiologist that recently moved back to Nevada and wanted to introduce herself to the community. Yay!
For the advertising portion, I was able to return to my graphic design roots for this meeting. I Google searched attractive event fliers, found one that I thought was visually pleasing, and fired up Photoshop to design a similar one for our event.
From October 2020 until basically the date of the event, I was sending out email reminders to our members about registering. Around December 2020, I started to feel my blood pressure rise in anticipation of this upcoming meeting. I learned to operate Zoom fairly proficiently; held several practice sessions with my executive committee and guest speakers. We wanted to make sure polls, Q&A, chat, etc. were all being displayed properly, as well as any PowerPoint presentations and videos we needed to broadcast.
After tuning into another state’s annual meeting, I decided to contact the president that orchestrated it and asked how I could mimic it. She was incredibly kind, probably spent a couple hours on the phone with me answering my questions, and ultimately I was able to assemble it. The best part of pre-recording the video (which, mind you, took long hours and several weekends to construct) was that I was able to time it perfectly to the hour I had available.
I initially purchased and downloaded Animotica from the Microsoft Store for my movie editing, but that had very basic/limited features and I found it difficult to use. After a little more investigating, I wandered upon HitFilm Express (no financial disclosures to declare). Let me tell you, AMAZING piece of FREE software! It had tons of transitions, some built-in text effects, sound-editing features, you name it. Highly recommend it!
So, there you have it. I apologize for disappearing for so long from this blog. I got tunnel vision on this project for the past several months, and any and all free time I had was devoted to this. Honestly, the past year was filled with a constant stress of tending to something or another NVAPD related. But overall, I would say the event went well, as did my year as president. I am however, looking forward to a little time off to just read, learn Spanish, play tennis with the kids, and try and clear my plate of responsibilities for a minute.
If you need any help planning a similar event, or have your own experiences you wish to share, I’m all ears! Thanks for taking the time to read this post!