Everything’s oversized in the Lone Star state, including the Healthcare and Exhibitors Association 2004 Annual Meeting, which was held June 12 to 15 in Austin. A record 732 number of attendees came to Texas to learn, network, and celebrate their star power in accordance with the meeting’s theme: Bright Stars in the Lone Star. The meeting also attracted a record number of sponsors—73—and the 120 exhibitors seemed to be pleased, despite less-than-rush-hour traffic at the exhibition. While exhibitors said they would have liked to see a few more people in the aisles, most agreed that the high quality of the people who did come to their booths made the show more than worth their while.

From a meeting-planning standpoint, HCEA did a lot to build community and enhance the educational value of the conference. Since nothing gels a group better than having a good time together, the opening breakfast featured comedian Greg Schwem, who obviously did a lot of research for this gig—he goofed on this industry’s acronyms, HCEA itself, all the various different regulations, and the meeting planning industry. One that got the audience roaring was reading one of the FAQs on the PhRMA Web site—it took him about five minutes, after which he shook his head and said, "and that’s a frequently asked question? I can’t even ask it once without running out of breath."

The other general session speakers were equally stellar, including artist-speaker Erik Wahl, who explored, visually and aurally, how the creative process can improve business. To further the meeting’s "star" theme, a reception at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum had attendees getting into the act by singing and playing instruments with the professionals in the band. The band was good, but attendees went wild when HCEA members rocked out at the mike.

Another good networking activity was a downtown photo scavenger hunt held before the meeting officially kicked off, in which teams of attendees had to find various things in Austin based on photos they were given.

While the educational sessions leaned heavily toward information for exhibitors, HCEA included several for its association members, including its trademark association-only roundtable, during which participants shared their challenges in today’s meetings and trade show environment. Other sessions explored the benefits of an exhibitors advisory council (see page 39 for more), making housing exhibitor-friendly while reducing attrition risks, and producing a compliant CME program. An update on the new proposed ACCME Standards for Commercial Support was also on the agenda.

Because the association is fortunate enough to have numerous long-standing members who come to the conference every year, the networking is well-established. But it can be difficult to integrate newcomers into the scene. This year, HCEA held a pre-reception just for the first-timers in the group. One of the HCEA board members asked longtime attendees to go out of their way to make the newbies feel welcome.

And, they say, they did, which, along with the education, made them lean toward returning next year.