by David Schmahl | October 01, 2013
• Educate and inform your team by speaking to the potential attendees likely to be most affected by cuts.
• Use solid research to demonstrate the value of attendance and education.
• Provide alternate ways to attend, such as for distance learning.
• Consider a tiered pricing structure.
• Be honest with attendees.
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As government and military personnel face travel cuts, and grant funding for continuing medical education is potentially reduced, medical and scientific meeting professionals must work to mitigate the effects sequestration is having on their members and their events. The following checklist explains how. It was compiled by David Schmahl, executive vice president and chief executive of Healthcare & Scientific Industry Practice at SmithBucklin, an association management and services company headquartered in Chicago.

Be Informed
• Don't rely on sound bites about the sequester and government funding. Look to expert sources from the government and your industry, and discuss on public forums.
• Administer surveys to your members or attendees, asking direct questions.   
• Talk to specific attendees most likely to be affected by changes in funding. Call them and ask whether recent changes will affect their ability to attend the meeting.

Demonstrate attendee value
• Follow up with more in-depth member and attendee research to learn what you can do to help their cause.
• Did you create a "value of attending" document in 2009 for the recession? Update it with contemporary references to the sequester.
• Compare cost-per-credit for continuing medical education for conference attendees vs. other means for obtaining CME credits. Make sure the comparison is favorable!

Convert challenge to opportunity
• Avoid mention of the sequester as a "crisis." Instead, regard this as an opportunity to reinvent the event. Rather than continuing with certain approaches because it's always been done that way, ask yourself what the meeting would look like if this were the first one.
• Take this opportunity to launch the distance-learning initiatives you've been contemplating, saving attendees travel costs.

Be flexible
• Discard the "plan the work, work the plan" mentality. Replace it with agility and speed.
• Create contingency plans that address areas of risk, allowing for fast reaction.

Add value
• Deliver meaningful, relevant solutions to
your attendees to make their experience more cost-efficient.
• Organize ride-sharing opportunities for meetings that attract a large drive-in contingent.
• Include a value-priced hotel in the list of options for your room block.
• Consider a dorm-leasing agreement with local universities, especially for meetings that attract a large academic population.
• Add a tiered pricing structure for attendance, offering greater benefits to those who can afford it.

Be Honest
• Use direct language to communicate rationale behind change, and tell your constituents exactly what you've done to ensure success.
• Address the sequester's effects directly and how you're proactively mitigating related damage. Attendees will assume that no mention of the sequester means you've thrown in the towel for those affected attendees.