Heading to ASCRS 2018? We hope so. Eye care industry conferences are an excellent pace to learn, network, and have a little fun, too. They can also be expensive, especially if there’s more than one person from your practice attending. Even so, we think it’s more than worth it to have at least one non-physician staff member attend. Why?
Every employee at your eye care practice needs training, and many need CEUs. One of the easiest ways to get them what they need and what your practice needs is to send them to a conference.But conferences cost you big once you add up tuition, travel expenses, and staff time away from your practice. That’s why you must make sure your investment in your staff’s education pays off.
Generally, I’ve witnessed two kinds of attendees at eye care conferences over the years:
The High-ROI Conference Attendee:
Let’s call her Wendy from Wisconsin. You know Wendy. She’s arrived 10 minutes early to an 8:30 AM frame retailing class so she can grab a front-row seat. Her notepad contains a list of carefully selected speakers for that day. Wendy tells you she’s chosen this class because last year, she learned a tip from the speaker that helped her triple contact lens revenue for her practice. She’s searching for more tips like that.
The Low-ROI Conference Attendee:
You’ve also seen this guy—let’s call him Chad. He slips into the classroom somewhere between the fourth and fifth slides with nothing on him but a cell phone. He sits on the floor in the back, checks a few websites, (The Chive is his fave), and falls asleep. Chad is probably nursing a hangover because the Las Vegas conference location is party central. He will return to his practice with the CEUs he needs, but very little else.
Wendy and Chad represent two extremes, but they are real. Here’s how to ensure the staffer you send to a conference brings home takeaways that benefit your practice.
Select conference opportunities carefully.
Make sure the courses at that conference will help the staffer do her job better. Consider not only what will be taught, but how it will be taught. Some eye care conferences are stronger on some topics than others. Some are great for entry-level employees, and some are more advanced.
If you’re not sure about a conference, ask a colleague. You might even call the conference organizers with questions. Sure, they’re trying to sell you the conference, but it’s in their best interest to answer your questions honestly so that you and your staff have a good experience.
Make a plan.
Before you give employees the green light to attend a conference, ask each individual to submit a simple, one-page proposal that estimates attendance costs and lists the benefits of attending that conference. Sure, you’ll fine-tune the budget and goals later, but this step sets the stage for employee accountability. If your staffer clearly understands that your practice is spending $2,000 on her education, for example, she’ll likely try her best to show you she’s worth the investment and will get more out of the experience.
Model high-ROI conference attendee behavior.
If you are attending a conference along with your staff, make sure they see and understand that you are doing the same things that you are asking them to do. You’re planning, you’re learning, and you’re thinking about how what you learn can benefit your practice. If you’re not attending, pick a reliable person to lead the group while there.
Make a plan.
A few weeks before you attend, have employees share their planned class schedules with you. This step accomplishes two goals. It ensures that employees have reviewed the agenda and selected the experiences they think will benefit them and the practice the most. And, it allows you to double-check to make sure they’ve chosen correctly. Let them know that you want them to emerge from the conference with concrete actions they will take to benefit the practice.
Don’t keep them in the dark.
If employees are attending a conference for the first time, help them know what to expect. Describe what people wear so they don’t feel out of place and can focus their energy on learning. Remind them to wear comfortable shoes. Make sure they have business cards if they need them. Let them know when and where you want them to huddle during the conference.
Divide & conquer.
Splitting up your staff ensures that someone from your practice covers everything that’s offered. Plus, you open up your staff to new experiences and perspectives if you remove them from the same pack of people they work with every day. If they’re on their own for at least part of the conference, they’re more likely to learn more from instructors, classmates, and exhibitors.
Effective managers huddle with staff at a pre-determined meeting place to help them process what they’re learning and think about how to apply what they’ve learned once they’re back at work. Aim to huddle with staff twice per each conference day. Most managers huddle at breakfast, lunch, or one after-class beer. (Just make sure you limit drinking overall for obvious reasons.)
Tip: Ask them not just what and why, but how. When they return to work, how will they implement what they’ve learned and test whether it benefits the practice?
An intangible benefit of conferences is that they are a huge morale boost for employees. Most conference programs these days include fun on the agenda. If there’s not fun, plan bits of fun for your staff. Make sure your plans include down time so they get plenty of rest.
Don’t forget the “souvenirs.”
Remind staff to collect handouts and tools from the sessions they attend so that you have something to refer to later. Nowadays, many conferences are going paper-free. If that’s the case, handouts are usually available on the conference’s mobile app or online.
Once you’ve returned, ask staff to list the actions they will take to be more effective and benefit the practice. Revisit the list regularly with them over the next few months to track progress and outcomes. You might ask staff to teach concepts they’ve learned to other staffers in short presentations, and to share results of what they’ve tried. Debriefing is crucial because it helps ensure that your team applies what they’ve learned to their work every day.