Setting Up a State Conference? Get Involved!
By Judith Ackerman, CPC, CCS-P
Your chapter has decided to host a state conference. Where do you begin? It may seem a bit overwhelming, but with a little planning and teamwork you can pull it off. The benefits will outweigh any stress associated with the preparation. Some advantages to hosting a state conference include the following:
- Networking and sharing knowledge with state members
- Talking about issues that are state specific
- Hearing new ideas on how to proceed with coding issues
Once the decision to host is made, what do you do? Here’s a step-by-step list of the best way to confidently and successfully host a state conference.
1. Invite Other Chapters in the State to Help
Inviting other chapters into the project is a great way to network and get acquainted with fellow members around the state. Teamwork facilitates planning, organizing, and completing tasks in a timely manner.
2. Choose a Planning Team
Select a core group of willing members as the main planning team. This team works together to decide on the major decisions, such as the date, location, speakers, topics, food, and all the other miscellaneous details. They should designate specific committees to handle particular tasks. Have one contact person for speakers, one for exhibitors and vendors, one for accommodations, one for registration, and so on.
3. Choose a Location
Hosting a state event is a great way to showcase your state. It enables participants to see other parts of the state. You may even want to hold future conferences in different areas of the state. For example, Minnesota’s chapters represent all areas of the state, such as Twin Cities’ metro area, the Southern, the Mid-Central and the Northeast.
A great way to decide on the location is to look at different facilities. Take a tour of facilities to find any advantages and disadvantages in the layout. Potential problems to watch out for are pillars or posts in the middle of the conference room and inadequate bathroom facilities. If the facility is at a hotel, ask to see the guest rooms. Always keep the comfort of your attendees in mind.
Once you select a site, go over the contract for the facility very carefully. Make a list of any questions to verify with the facility or hotel representative prior to signing the contract. If you choose a hotel, ask if a block of rooms can be held for attendees. When reserving rooms, however, chapters shouldn’t have to guarantee a certain number of rooms, as this can add quite a bit of cost to your expenses. Review the cancellation policy carefully for timelines and related costs.
4. Choose a Date
Check with the facility to see what dates are open. Don’t plan the conference when other coding or billing organizations (i.e., state AHIMA) are having a conference, as your attendance may suffer.
5. Plan a Budget
Planning a budget is one of the most important items (if not, the most important item). Here’s a suggestion for keeping expenses within your budget: Once you have an “estimated” total cost, add 5-8 percent of the total for unexpected costs. Review for hidden costs, such as sales tax, service charges, and audio equipment costs. The majority of the expenses are: food bills, meeting room charges, advertising fees, printing and binder costs, and speaker fees. Get quotes for printing of the presentations and brochures well in advance. Some printers have programs for small organizations where you can apply for an assistance grant to help with the cost of printing.
6. Set a Registration Fee
When setting a registration fee, factor in the cost of food, printed material, speakers, facility rental, and audio equipment. The fee should give attendees the most bang for their bucks.
7. Find Sponsors and Vendors
Many representatives can assist as speakers with donations or with giveaways. Explain how the workshop will benefit them as well as the attendees. Designate different levels of sponsorship (for example, platinum, gold, silver, and bronze). Each increased level of sponsorship receives more benefits than the previous level. Each level is entitled to an exhibitor’s table, and recognition in the manual or brochure. You may want to offer higher levels one or two complimentary registrations as an add-on benefit.
8. Choose Speakers and Topics
Find speakers who are enthusiastic and have a lot of information to share. Offer a variety of topics for the attendees: hospital, physician, basic and advanced sessions, compliance, leadership, and annual regulatory updates. Contact your local Medicare carrier and/or intermediary for a speaker, as they provide education. Don’t hesitate to ask vendors to speak. Many are prepared to do so. If your state chapters have a speakers’ list, make use of it. Also, offer local chapter members the chance to speak and present on their specialty.
9. Apply for Continuing Education Units (CEUs)
Once the topics are decided, contact AAPC to request CEUs. Instructions can be found at www.aapc.com/education/ceu-vendors-list.aspx.
10. Advertise Your Conference
Send out “save the date” postcards or emails to chapter members, neighboring state chapter officers, other organizations, and medical facilities. Use your state’s directory of hospitals and physician offices or just look in the phone book to find this information. Contact coding magazines to see if a notice can be published or posted on a Web site. If your conference city has a convention or tourist bureau, see what benefits the bureau can provide. For example, some bureaus send out monthly email bursts with the registration and housing information and post the information on their Web site.
11. Hold Regular Team Meetings
Hold regular meetings to hash out the conference details as they unfold. There are continual details to work on throughout the planning process.
12. Work the Conference
The time has arrived for the conference. Mingle and network. Listen to your attendees’ input for next year’s conference. Have fun!
13. Wrap it Up
Send thank you notes to speakers, etc. Go over the evaluations and start on next year’s conference.
Setting up a state conference is no easy task, but this 13-point list will help you attain your goal. Like anything, it gets easier with practice.