At the start of 2023, the Professional Convention Management Association Foundation announced its Professional Excellence Awards finalists across seven categories, including Event Strategist of the Year. In that category, medical-association planners stole the spotlight. The three nominees were:
Kristi Casale, CMP, DMCP, vice president for meetings and continuing education, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
Lisa McGlashen, CMP, CEM, HMCC, director, meetings and exhibits, American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery
Alexandra Zapple, CAE, CMP, CEM, DES, senior director of meetings and member experience, American Society of Nephrology
The awards ceremony was held on March 9 during Business Events Industry Week at Gaylord National in National Harbor, Md. PCMA says that “the annual celebration recognizes 21 finalists across seven categories for extraordinary contributions to their organizations and their impact on the professional development of others.”
Enough with the suspense: The 2023 Event Strategist of the Year award went to Kristi Casale.
Shortly after Business Events Industry Week wrapped up, MeetingsNet caught up with all three finalists. Here, we feature Casale’s accomplishments along with her perspective as she builds out educational programs for healthcare professionals. Next month, we will highlight the work of Lisa McGlashen, and in June we will feature the work of Alexandra Zapple.
Related Link: Nominate a Planner for MeetingsNet's Changemakers 2023 List
The Back Story
According to PCMA, Casale was nominated for Event Strategist of the Year award by her colleagues at AAPD because “she has consistently increased revenue year over year even throughout the pandemic, and she continues to create innovative and engaging programming and activations for her audiences.”
MeetingsNet: What was the big initiative that you took on in 2022 that earned you PCMA’s Event Strategist of the Year award?
Kristi Casale: Many other medical-association planners went through the same struggle we had: convincing attendees that not only would it be healthy and safe on site at meetings in 2022, but also that it was worth attendees’ money after two years of practice closures, staff shortages, and lost revenue.
The 2022 AAPD annual meeting was our first in-person event after the pandemic, and we wanted to give our attendees a curated, vibrant, exciting experience so that they would remember why AAPD is “The Big Authority on Little Teeth” and that our annual meeting is a can’t-miss event. It was also AAPD’s 75th anniversary, so we incorporated a lot of historical elements into the event space.
For our opening keynote, I had a creative team help me rewrite the lyrics to part of the Broadway production “Hamilton” to play on aspects of our members' work. We first posted it to YouTube but then we surprised our event audience with a live performance by professional actors during our keynote slot.
Besides having other great keynotes and strong continuing education sessions and ramping up our special events to a level we had never done before, we also decided to invest in videographers to help us tell the story of our association and of individual members so we could help bolster interest on social media. But AAPD didn’t have anyone in marketing at the time, so I spearheaded those efforts. I handled the creative outline and let my video crew build out the story.
Overall, our team has come to live by the motto that we’re going to spend our time and energy only on things that people are going to talk about afterwards—anything else is a waste.
MeetingsNet: What are some challenges in planning events for a medical audience that you feel are uniquely difficult versus planning events for professionals in other industries?
Kristi Casale: I think the educational component is so critical in addition to entertaining our members. I oversee our scientific program, so I have to challenge our committee annually to assemble the best pediatric dental CE possible—and to have it all happen over our event dates, which typically fall on a holiday weekend. We are in a space where members can easily access CE as well as corporate-sponsored education online. So, we must offer the best-quality content in one place while having a governing body certify our education, which means we have to follow a lot of rules, especially as it relates to accepting speakers, content, and the support dollars to make it happen.
As educators for dental practitioners, we cannot simply plan whichever event elements we want, in whichever destination we want—not being biased or influenced by one company or product and sticking to all the other guidelines is paramount. For example, it’s often difficult to present cutting-edge topics because at that moment, there might not be quite enough science and evidence behind them. But attendees often want to learn about the new product or procedure, and that can be tough for an association that must ensure the integrity of its education.
MeetingsNet: How many events do you plan a year, and what challenges do you worry most about for those events in the next couple of years?
Kristi Casale: Our association hosts between seven and 10 CE courses each year, and my biggest challenge is topping the previous annual meeting’s education, entertainment, and special-event experiences. When I first started at AAPD about 10 years back, our welcome reception was always in the ballroom of the host hotel in Orlando. This year, we have a full buyout of SeaWorld in Orlando. We have come very far in a decade and completely leveled up our entertainment and social events. Our attendees have come to expect an elevated experience year after year, so it keeps me on my toes.
Another issue is that anyone and everyone is hosting their own version of CE both online and in person. The problem is that it is mostly corporate-sponsored and is often biased and thus doesn’t follow the AAPD guidelines. Unfortunately, every state has a different set of acceptable forms and origins of CE. Our biggest challenge is having state administrators understand the danger that comes from accepting all forms of CE, and getting them to crack down on where their dentists can claim their CE from to maintain their licensure.
MeetingsNet: What element of your personality or skill set is most helpful to making you a good planner for your organization?
Kristi Casale: I think it's being very creative but also having a knack for trusting the right partners and teammates to support these ideas. You can have a hundred great ideas but if you don’t have the right partners and have trust going in both directions, you can’t succeed. But if you surround yourself with people you trust and who trust you, you really can accomplish anything.