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The Blur of the Show

June 1, 2001
Here's how to survive a dental trade show and get the most value out of those travel expenses.
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The registration materials for a dental convention, meeting, or seminar has arrived at your office, and the excitement level increases as the preparations are made for attending. The following information may be helpful to the hygienist who is preparing to attend a meeting as part of a dental team. Helpful suggestions also are included if you're the only attendee representing your office. Planning ahead ensures a productive and enjoyable trip.

Prior to the meeting

Contact the sponsor of the meeting ahead of time to request several copies of the scientific sessions and exhibitors. Pre-register by mail and request name badges to be sent to you ahead of time. This step avoids having to spend time standing in long lines on the first day of the seminar or conference.

If the meeting is out of town, make, confirm, and reconfirm your travel accommodations. Airline delays are common. Sometimes it's better to take an earlier flight and not miss part of the convention. Use a credit card to hold your room for late arrival, just in case.

When packing, plan to dress comfortably, in layers, and wear comfortable shoes! Today, anything goes! Dress codes at dental meetings are relaxed and aimed at comfort.

Also, pack a few light, nonperishable snacks and a small supply of bottled water to keep you going. By doing this, you will avoid standing in long lines waiting to buy over-priced concession items during the meeting.

Get a good night's sleep the night before because you will have a busy day ahead of you. Plan to get some exercise the day before, which will give you better energy and stamina the day of the seminar.

Have a definitive understanding prior to attending the seminar about what the office will pay for or reimburse and what it will not. It's better to have this understanding ahead of time than to be confused or liable for a cost you had not anticipated.

If the entire team is attending a conference that features multiple seminars, decide ahead of time which members will listen to what speakers. Everyone should be expected to take notes and to obtain handouts from the respective speakers. At the next staff meeting, or better yet, at the convention wrap-up session, each person or group of people who went to different lectures should give a report of the highlights and at least three ideas learned from the seminar that could benefit the practice.

Decide in advance which exhibitor booths you specifically would like to visit. If there is a wide range of interest and several staff members are attending, agree to visit rows or sections of the exhibit hall to cover the most territory. Ask the distributors' representatives for samples, literature, and their business cards. Meet afterwards at a specific time or place so that everyone is accounted for and no one gets lost! At this time, staff members who have seen noteworthy items being demonstrated at a booth may wish to pass this information along. "Doctor, I've just seen the most amazing intraoral camera/digital radiography unit/laser and I think you should see it over at booth #_____."

At scientific sessions

Observe all rules of the convention and its sponsor. Be respectful of others in the room and especially to your speaker. Turn off cell phones and refrain from smoking except in designated areas. Do not talk while the speaker is talking, as this is very disruptive, discourteous, and annoying to others around you who want to hear the speaker.

Give yourself an "out (an easy exit)" if you need to visit the restroom frequently or if the topic isn't what you thought it would be. Bring a light sweater or jacket to accommodate for changes in room temperature, as well as materials for taking notes.

If you are sick with the flu, a hacking cough, or a constantly running nose, consider skipping the meeting that day. You'll feel better sooner with rest, and the participants around you will appreciate your consideration. They'll also wish you a speedy recovery!

Feel free to ask the lecturer questions at the conclusion of the presentation. Write them down in the margins of the handout as the lecture progresses, so you can approach the speaker later. This is particularly helpful if the speaker starts late or exceeds the allotted time.

If you have a significant number of questions, be considerate of other attendees' time and of the speaker's time (he or she may have a flight to catch); instead, trade business cards, introduce yourself and say, "Hi, I'm Jackie with Dr. Brown's office in Seattle. I am especially excited about your area of expertise as it pertains to dental hygiene. May I call you to discuss this further at a quieter time at your convenience when you get back to the office?"

On the exhibit hall floor

Arrive prepared with lots of business cards (the doctor's and yours). Some offices carry a small self-inking rubber stamp that easily fits into a pocket, purse, backpack, or briefcase. Use either the office business card or the rubber stamp when placing orders at a booth or when requesting samples or literature. This saves an incredible amount of time that would otherwise be spent filling out forms by hand or dictating the information repeatedly to different sales representatives.

Always ask exhibitors for show specials on products you currently use and also ask, "What else is new?" Request a demonstration. Ask if you can bring your doctor and the entire team over for a demonstration.

After the meeting

Be sure to check that you have everything you came with. In the fray of a large meeting, it's easy to forget or simply misplace handouts, spare eyeglasses, sunglasses, cell phones, beepers, laptops, backpacks, exhibit samples, or literature.

Schedule some downtime. A 16-hour day can be exhausting, even for the toughest of meeting warriors. If you like peace and quiet, call room service, take a relaxing bubble bath, or plan some relaxation by shopping, visiting the hotel pool, getting a workout, or having a massage.

Find a place to reconnoiter with the entire team, preferably away from the crowds and noise of the meeting, especially if it's a large convention. A quiet dinner away from the convention hotel or headquarters can be relaxing and a welcome getaway.

Bring your preliminary list of ideas for implementation back to the office to share with the team. Get them excited about these ideas. This is where you "sell your stuff" to the office.

When you are ready to check out of the convention hotel, call the front desk and arrange to check out ahead of time. You can still go to breakfast, floss and brush, load your car, or check your luggage with the bell captain.

Have a special pouch or envelopes to keep all of your receipts and important notes together.

What several industry experts recommend

We contacted a number of dental pros, who shared their advice for a successful meeting with RDH readers. (If you have specific "gems" you'd like to share with RDH readers, please send them in.) Sally McKenzie, CMC, a practice management consultant for more than 20 years, says, "Request your own copy of the exhibitors' list beforehand." She continues, "Exhibitors and distributors sometimes have a tendency to discriminate against staff in favor of the dentists. Because it's hard to determine whether a female visiting the booth is a dentist or a hygienist," she advises, "flip your badge around so they can't tell what role you play in the office! Don't get discriminated against!"

Sally also recommends that the hygienist bring business cards or adhesive address labels from the practice to save time on the exhibit floor when requesting literature or product samples. "Don't 'go to the mall,' " she says, "request literature and samples to be sent to your office or home address rather than carrying too much stuff around." Sally can be reached at (877) 777-6151 or accessed on the Web at: or www.practicemanagement-

Carol D. Tekavec, RDH, owner of Stepping Stone to Success, Pueblo, Colo., has three suggestions: "First, do your homework before attending the show," she says "and make a list of the vendors you want to visit." She recommends consulting the trade booth guide and map to locate these specific vendors and to plan your itinerary accordingly. "Second," she says, "don't be afraid to stop and ask product questions of the reps running the booths. They are there to help you find what you need and there is no obligation on your part to listen." And third, Carol advises, "If you find a product you want, always ask for a meeting discount price because trade shows are a great place to 'make a deal.' " Carol can be reached at (800) 548-2164 or by fax at (719) 545-3020.

Frances Dean Wolfe is the pen name for a frequent contributor to RDH.


  • PracticeSmart Newsletter: Phoenix, AZ.
  • Six Ways to Maximize Your Continuing Education Participation! The Explorer, Falls Church, Virginia, August 1996.

Top 10 Tips For Maximizing Your Time

At a Dental Convention:

  1. Plan your personal convention strategy well in advance.
  2. Register early so you don't have to waste time standing in long lines.
  3. Visit "must-see" exhibits first.
  4. Prepare your office shopping list of specials ahead of time.
  5. Try new materials and equipment "hands-on."
  6. Save time by bringing lots of business cards with you.
  7. Take notes from continuing education sessions to share with other staff members.
  8. Take advantage of free health screenings.
  9. Don't pick up more "stuff" than your suitcase can hold or than you can easily carry in a tote bag.
  10. Wear comfortable shoes!

If you attend the meeting alone

If you are the only one from your practice attending the meting (Hurray! A day away!), consider the following pointers to maximize your learning experience:

  • Meet up with someone. Contact other hygienist friends or former classmates who may be planning to attend. (Agree ahead of time to meet at a specific time and place.) It's always more fun if you look forward to attending the meeting with someone you know. If the meeting is out of town, you may be able to share travel-related expenses.
  • Prepare a scouting report. Preview the handouts, workbooks, and other materials ahead of time to acquaint yourself with the speaker's theme and to determine what you can expect from attending the program. If there are specific areas of interest to the practice, highlight them in the materials so that you can be sure to relay the information at the office. You might also prepare several questions ahead of time to ask the speaker following the formal session.
  • Hit the high points. Avoid the temptation of trying to write everything down. Chances are, you'll get exasperated all too soon. Instead, write down the main points and go back afterward and fill them in.
  • Make your learning experience selective. Experts suggest that approximately 25 percent of what you hear at a seminar will be directly useful to you. Many hygienists like to gather "pearls of wisdom" to implement when they return to their offices.
  • Review your notes immediately. At the end of the program review and revise your notes. It's easy to think, "I'll get around to this sometime." Avoid the temptation and complete the notes while the day and the information are still fresh in your mind.
  • Share while still fresh. Take action steps immediately to implement ideas in your office. Prepare a list of suggestions you want to introduce or improve upon. Suggestions, however, aren't enough. If you feel passionately about implementation, you need to develop an action plan, a budget, and a list of benefits to the practice.
    For example, benefits might include saving time and money in the long run, easier for staff and patients, more time spent with patients, reduced time completing specific appointment-related tasks, less paperwork. Hint: The longer you put this off, the less likely these ideas will be put into action.
  • Look like the pro that you are. Prepare a memo or report for your boss that covers what you learned at the continuing-education program and how it will benefit the practice. Always be generous about sharing the information you have learned and be an advocate for implementation. It's up to you to assume ownership of the concepts you want to introduce or change. Go for it!