Dr. Ross McDonald, who invited a number of us to come and speak at his third annual Edinburgh Lecture program, took all the speakers to dinner last Saturday evening. Sitting down to an incredible meal (that lasted four hours) with others who share the seminar “circuit” is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a chiropractic gypsy.
I happened to find myself situated in a most wonderful place at this table of 11. To my right, Dr. Dennis Perman. To my left, Dr. Troy Dukowitz. Sitting across from me were Dr. Janice Hughes and Dr. Guy Riekeman.
As I said, sharing a meal with others who endure the glamour of cancelled flights, lost luggage, taxis and the time away from home, is one of the most pleasurable aspects of enduring the cancelled flights, lost luggage, taxis and time away from home. You might be wondering, “What does a high octane group like that talk about over a four-hour dinner?”
You might be surprised.
Actually, I don’t remember much of our dinner conversation. (Ross is a wine aficionado and generously shared his recommendations with us.) But I do remember one subject that didn’t come up: chiropractic. And it’s not because we have major differences in our interpretation of chiropractic and were attempting to preserve some sort of social goodwill. In fact, it is our love of chiropractic that prompts us to sign up for the cancelled flights, lost luggage, taxis and time away from home. It seemed like most of our conversation centered around two subjects: our families and our experiences on the road.
Only those who share the road can fully appreciate the agony of some of these stories. Tell your spouse about the delayed flights and luggage arriving after your presentation and the response can be an unsympathetic, “Sure, but didn’t you get upgraded to first class?” Yes, I got the upgrade, but frankly, first class isn’t what it used to be. Plus, it’s still 1752 miles (or whatever) regardless of what seat you’re in. Again, something that only fellow road warriors actually understand.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the opportunity to share my ideas with chiropractors and their support team around the world. I love it. And wouldn’t be doing it if my fellow change agents and I didn’t get a whiff or two from time to time that we were actually making a difference. Which is something we talked about. More specifically, why is the attendance of virtually every chiropractic gathering shrinking?
It may surprise you that eroding attendance bothers the speakers even more than the various sponsors of these chiropractic gatherings, whether associations, consulting groups or private entrepreneurs. Sure, it can make it less profitable for the sponsors, but more fundamentally, it reduces the possibility of significantly touching someone and inspiring change—the real motive for getting onto airplanes.
Based on my dinnertime research, plus drawing on some conclusions of my own, here are a couple of theories about why attendance may be down. In no particular order:
Been there done that. Apparently, many chiropractors believe that the purpose of attending a seminar is to be in a room in which they agree with the ideas and point of view of the speaker. So, why pay to listen to someone you may never have heard of before or whose opinions you disagree with?
Irrelevant. I’m guessing that many seminars don’t address the issues that are meaningful to the typical chiropractor. The exception to shrinking seminar attendance seems to be the rare state association that delivers the mandatory HIV training, risk management or some esoteric diagnostic X-ray course required by some governing body.
Other priorities. Let’s not forget that most seminars take place on Saturday. The same day as weddings, gymnastic competitions, piano recitals, hockey games and the call of lawn work or the golf course. While for some, a seminar would be a wonderful diversion (depending upon the weather), for others, a seminar competes with key family activities.
Poor return on investment. Whether you’re investing your time or money or both, many seminars may no longer deliver a sufficient benefit. Seminars that are still teaching ways of exploiting the third party reimbursement system or teaching abusive patient management strategies (“I just can’t see myself saying that to a patient!”) just don’t seem worth the trouble.
Seminars don’t work. Perhaps after a couple dozen seminars, audiences are wising up to the idea that the outside-in approach of a one-size-fits-all seminar just doesn’t produce real change. The stack of unimplemented ideas from previously attended seminars could be an annoying reminder.
Poor marketing. Getting the word out about an upcoming gig is one of the biggest expenses of holding a seminar. Inundated by direct mail overtures for a variety of patient building aids, many of these overtures never get past the front desk staff who sorts the mail while standing over the garbage can.
The chiropractic profession is in the midst of significant change. Poor seminar attendance is just one of many symptoms. Seminars can, and will, go by the wayside if they no longer serve the profession. Some believe that what will emerge is more reliance on webinars, teleclasses and other technologies. Yet, it’s unlikely that technology will be able to capture the electricity of a crowd, the burst of shared laughter or deliver the nuances of body language so critical to effective communication.
But that was never the purpose of these gatherings. Seminars seem like a holdover from another time. I think one of the doctors around the table summed it up correctly when observing that the profession has become too complacent. “We need to have a couple of chiropractors thrown into jail every year or so. That would keep chiropractors more focused!”
If you know why seminar attendance is down, would you post it as a comment?