Affiliate Conferences and Continuing Education: Virginia’s Experience

In striving to find the perfect mix of good educational programming, convenient location, and manageable costs, the Virginia Affiliate has learned valuable lessons they want to share.

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One of the primary roles of every affiliate is to provide networking and continuing education opportunities to its members. For the past 6 years, the Virginia Affiliate has been doing this by hosting a one-day conference that brings together midwives, students, and other women’s health professionals from around the state. Each year, we tweaked and adjusted different aspects of the event to find just the right mix of good programming, convenient location, and manageable costs to better serve the needs and desires of our members. We are still striving to find the perfect recipe, but we are making progress and have learned the following valuable lessons we want to share.

  1. Make Networking a Priority

We invite not only our midwife and student members to the conference, but also certified professional midwives, doulas, and birth advocates. This increases attendance and the mix creates wonderful opportunities for relationship building and collaboration.

During the one-day event, we schedule no more than 6 sessions so there are moments throughout the day for networking. In the early years, we held a credited session during lunch. However, we have since removed that in favor of a longer lunch period with time devoted to informal discussion and conversation. A casual dinner is held in the evening which provides even more opportunity for attendees to get to know each other.

2. Consider Location

With the hope of encouraging local attendance and sharing the burden of travel among all our members, we hold the conference in a different region of the state each year. What we found was that the best attended events were the two held near the central region of the state. The reasons for this are still unclear – do more midwives live in those regions? – and we are determined to figure it out.

3. Keep the Date Consistent

Three years ago, we set a permanent date for our annual conference:  the first Saturday in November. We have had steady attendance and an increase from previous years, but those conferences were held in the central region, so we aren’t sure whether the location was a confounding factor. It remains to be seen whether allowing attendees to plan far in advance will increase attendance. 

4. Cut Expenses to Keep Registration Fees Low

Since we made registration fees more affordable, we have seen a slight increase in attendance, which is wonderful. To offset less revenue, we have become more proactive in cutting our expenses. We ask the host sites and/or secure industry sponsors to cover the cost of food (breakfast and lunch), beverages throughout the day, attendee bags, and notepads. Speakers now receive a small gift – a coffee mug with women’s health themed art or a stained-glass piece by a Virginia midwife – instead of a larger cash honorarium. This has made the gift more meaningful while lowering our expenses.

5. Broaden Your Audience – Go Online

Putting conference sessions online makes them available to a broader audience, but it takes trial-and-error to find the best way to do so. We have worked with 2 different companies so far, and we are still haven’t found the right answer for us.

First, we partnered with GOLD Learning, an online continuing education company. GOLD Learning coordinated the advertising, editing and uploading of the lectures, video hosting, registration, and evaluation tracking. We recorded conference sessions on a CD and send it to our representative at GOLD to upload. Unfortunately, the quality of our recordings was not very good, and we had technical difficulties in transmitting them. In addition, communication challenges and staff and volunteer turnover in both organizations contributed to delays in finalizing the videos for upload.

Next, in 2018, we used our affiliate (free!) account with Zoom, a video conferencing company. We were able to broadcast the conference sessions live and recorded them for future viewing. A virtual meeting was created for each presentation so that it could be recorded, and screen sharing displayed the PowerPoint slides. This process significantly improved both the quality of the recordings and the ease of recording.

Even though the recording process is better, the tracking process has been more time consuming for users and staff. After registering to watch the webinar, users must wait for someone to manually grant them access. For our committee chair to be able to invoice users and give them continuing education credits, post-webinar evaluations are sent manually. Time delays are experienced in each step of the process. We are creating e-mail notifications which we hope will reduce turnaround time.

Another challenge with Zoom is that it has limited storage capacity. We were able to record 4 presentations with our included storage limit. We will need to move the videos to a different video platform to keep them for the full 2 years. Automation for this pathway would make it more successful.

6. Ask for Feedback and Adjust Accordingly

Each year, conference attendees complete program surveys and leave invaluable feedback about how the committee can improve future events, including topics they would like to learn more about. Attendees have frequently asked for more education events throughout the year. We are slowly building a speaker repository and looking to use recordings or repeat in-person presentations at local or regional gatherings. We hope to continue to provide rich opportunities for learning and gathering with our colleagues.  

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you Mary Ellen Stanton for your beautiful Trubute to Margaret Ann Marshall. I appreciated every word that you wrote about her life and unwavering commitment to the Midwifery model of care and global awareness. While I did not know Margaret personally, I feel closer to her now that you have shared so much about her life and legacy. She is an incredible role model for all of us. Thank you.