Making the most out of in-person healthcare conferences and trade shows

people at conference listening to speaker

Four questions to answer before booking your flight

It's been a long time since I've been to an in-person conference. Guessing the same is true for you.

While I've appreciated the endless opportunities to learn and gather virtually over the past 18 or so months, and have even had the chance to participate in programming and webinars I otherwise wouldn't have accessed, I'm really looking forward to the return of getting together with peers and colleagues.

You may be wondering if it's worth it to attend these healthcare conferences in person. In my more than 30 years attending dozens of conferences and trade shows, answering the following questions in advance has helped me get the most out of the investment of time and money:

  1. Why are you going?
    This might seem obvious, but then again, spending a little time really considering your goals for attending can sharpen your focus. Do you have specific objectives you’re trying to achieve? Are you looking for inspiration and fresh thinking? What kind of information, connections or takeaways will you gain? What insights and benefits can you provide your organization?
  2. Who do you want to see/meet/engage with?
    If at all possible, set up meetings in advance. Find out who else is going, and get in touch with them beforehand to set up coffee, lunch, drinks or dinner. Getting “face time” with peers, colleagues or potential partners can make the whole trip worthwhile. Don’t just cross your fingers and hope you run into them or that they’ll be available at the last minute. Making it official can go a long way toward building a stronger relationship.
  3. What sessions do you plan to attend? What’s your second choice for each time slot?
    Spending the time in advance to really plan out which sessions are of most interest can ensure you make the most of your time at the conference. Having a back-up plan for each time slot can turn out to be really helpful if the first choice session turns out to be less than you imagined or if you were otherwise thwarted. If you’re traveling with colleagues, compare notes so important sessions get covered and you can share learnings among your team and with leadership or other departments when you return.
  4. What will you do differently after returning home? (How will you know it was worth it?)
    This requires some pre-thinking as well. Do you have a plan for following up with new contacts? For sharing and integrating new learning or actions into your team meetings? Schedule time on your calendar for the weeks after returning to process and synthesize and create an action plan to put your newfound techniques, concepts and contacts into play.

I’ll be attending SHSMD in San Antonio September 19-21; HMPS in Miami October 6-8, and HCIC in Las Vegas Nov. 2-4.

Here are few of the sessions I’m particularly looking forward to:

SHSMD Connections (Core Health Booth #123):

  • The Entire Marketing and Digital Engagement Track! Core Health is proud to be the sponsor of this track … so many good sessions!
  • Thriving Post-Pandemic: Achieving 100x Return on Your Marketing Investment: 2020 was one of the toughest years in the history of the healthcare industry. Not only did the Covid-19 pandemic take a toll on the health of the communities we serve as well as our own team members, it was a financial disaster as well. (At its peak in the Spring of 2020, health care systems were collectively losing $50 billion every month!) This loss in volumes has been felt most acutely in ERs across the country. While most have rebounded from the lows established during the height of the pandemic, many have struggled to get back to pre-Covid volumes. Hear the story of one health care system that not only has survived the pandemic due, in part, to its marketing and operational innovation, but may have unlocked the key to thriving in 2021 and beyond: A transformative precision marketing approach that can deliver triple-digit returns. This never-been-told-before tale will be shared for the first time at this conference and should be a must-see for all in attendance.
  • How the Nation's Most Recognized Systems Spend Their Marketing Dollars...and Why It Matters to You: Marketing and communications executives from leading health care systems across the country have been working together to compare their resource allocation to true peers.  With a steering committee including Cleveland Clinic, Ochsner Health System, Intermountain Healthcare and SHSMD, benchmarking data has been gathered through the use of a tool that allows participants to compare themselves to similar organizations of all types and sizes. Aggregate benchmarking results of over 50 participants across 3 years of the study will be shared.
  • Humanizing Health Brands For a Post-COVID World: Join us for the Humanizing Brands Collective—LIVE!, a leadership group that brings health systems from around the country together to speed go-to-market efforts and futureproof their brands and experiences.  In a live version of this monthly session, members will share how they’ve leveraged each other’s experiences to learn on the fly, improve communications, and connect with people during these turbulent times. In this lively session, you’ll drop in on an actual meeting to hear the most impactful learnings from the last year and the latest research on perceptions of healthcare brands in the age of COVID-19.
  • Managing the Dual Priorities of Driving System Volume and COVID-19 Communications Amid the Pandemic: We’ve arrived at that future sooner than expected—and the challenges encompass more than telehealth. Now, healthcare systems are tasked with the dual prioritization of driving volume while delivering COVID communications. Join panelists Paul J. Wood (Cohen Veterans Network), Deborah Hollenstein (Vanderbilt University Medical Center), Jordis Rosenquest (Baylor Scott & White Health) and moderator Tom Hileman as they discuss new communication practices amid COVID-19, gaining employees’ and patients’ trust in safe care, telehealth and behavioral health within healthcare in post-pandemic life.
  • Humanizing Social Media for Meaningful Connections that Matter: Meaningful strategies means weaving together the brand experience with human needs. The goal is to create relationships with your audience. And relationships, especially social ones, are built on moments – moments that elicit real emotion while remaining true to your brand strategy. The question is, how does that all happen? Join us for insights and a case study on how to bring unlikely social media tools to life to create authentic connections.

HMPS (Core Health Booth #34):

  • Develop Effective Marketing Plans. Now more than ever, successful marketing requires a solid marketing plan. In this workshop, learn how to conduct a market audit and use the findings to develop a position, strategies, objectives, and metrics.
  • A Focus on Opportunities & Growth: Marketing's Role. Geisinger is pushing to bring healthcare closer to customers through its new 65Forward care model, as well as its retail strategy, including urgent care centers, Geisinger at Home, a pharmacy business, and more!
  • Fracture Events: Implications on Brand. Following a fracture event, consumers want a change ... an advancement into a new, better world. Hear how Renown Health used research to define the new lens and the implications for its brand.
  • Strategies to Drive Market Growth & Success. In times of rapid change, having clear organizational growth strategies becomes paramount. Explore the emerging options for moving strategy from an acute care focus to true customer centricity.
  • Take the Lead on SDoH: Lessons from Children's Hospitals. Examine the power of market research and voice of customer insights to inform content strategy and leverage authentic brand attributes. Learn how to leverage content distribution channels and social influencers aligned with your brand.

Will I see you at these conferences? Where are you headed this fall?


Laila Waggoner serves as Vice President, Strategic Partnerships for Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice. Laila brings more than 30 years of experience working with regional health systems, community hospitals, academic medical centers, hospices, managed care organizations and B2B healthcare brands in markets across the country. She’s held in-house health system and agency leadership roles, and provides unique insight into how clients can best leverage the strategic branding, marketing and creative resources of an agency partner.

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