Published: November 1, 2023

Nashville: Yes! Large, In-Person Annual Meetings Are Back by Popular Demand

After returning from this year’s 127th Annual Meeting & OTO Experience in Nashville, Tennessee, I have reflected on what I observed, attendees’ comments, preliminary attendance and financial information, and a gestalt view of the event itself.

James C. Denneny III, MD AAO-HNS/F Executive Vice President and CEOJames C. Denneny III, MD
AAO-HNS/F Executive Vice President and CEO
To fully reflect and understand the Nashville experience, consider the backdrop.

As we lived through and emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, there was considerable concern and uncertainty regarding the future of in-person meetings in the medical association community as well as the meetings industry in general. Would the availability of virtual options serve as the trigger to downsize or eliminate the traditional large, comprehensive in-person annual meetings or significantly alter the structure of these meetings to reflect a hybrid model with less personal interaction and networking opportunities for attendees? The AAO-HNS/F engaged a meetings consultant, 360 Media, to review our situation and offer advice as to planning and structure of future meetings. They believed that there would be gradual recovery of the in-person model over a three-to-five-year period and advised that the consensus opinion in their field was a 65% recovery by the third year.

Our meeting in Nashville was the third meeting since the pandemic began slowing down in the second half of 2021. I remember when we replaced Chicago with Nashville as the site for our 2023 meeting after a substandard experience in Chicago at the 2017 meeting. There were many who expressed concerns about the selection and predicted a marked drop in attendance both domestically and internationally. Fortunately, those concerns proved to be unfounded.

Statistically, attendance in Nashville exceeded our projections, and we had the highest domestic attendance in recent history. We had 244 exhibitors, 112 of which were new, and we exceeded our sponsorship projections as well. The Music City Center proved to be a great host and was the nicest facility by far that we have experienced during my tenure as EVP/CEO. The host city and all facilities clearly were excited and happy we were there and treated us accordingly. Their attitude and the entertainment and dining opportunities available in Nashville resulted in a high attendee satisfaction rate and many requests to return to Nashville in the future.

While the registration, exhibitor, and sponsorship numbers are important, the most significant aspect of the meeting was the palpable energy and excitement of both our domestic and international attendees, especially the medical students and residents. The Annual Meeting Program Committee, led by Daniel C. Chelius, Jr., MD, did not disappoint, continuing their yearly tradition of quality and diversity of the program while adding additional education opportunities.

The Opening Ceremony, held at the Country Music Association Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame drew an overflow crowd and featured an outstanding John Conley, MD Lecture on Medical Ethics. The Cotton-Fitton, House, Myers, and Neel lectures were also given before capacity audiences.

The Women in Otolaryngology Section continued to have extraordinary participation at their luncheon event and the Otolaryngology Private Practice Section celebrated their first official meeting since final approval by the Board of Directors at the meeting.

The Simulation courses, which had been expanded this year, were sold out again.

One of the highlights of the entire meeting for me was the increased medical student participation. These students represent the future of our specialty and this year’s programming included a wonderful session about private practice. 

The EVP/CEO Spotlight Series included critical and informative talks by the American Board of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery that detailed the future plans for Board certification, a presentation of the new Foundation-produced “Otolaryngology Core Curriculum” that will debut July 1, 2024, celebration of World Sinus Health Awareness Day, an international panel on advances in cochlear implantation and the case for establishing an international registry, and an inspiring discussion and Crucial Conversations about otolaryngology training in the future of the specialty.

The question of whether in-person, large-scale medical meetings will recover and remain a viable and popular vehicle for state-of-the-art education and networking opportunities in the world of Zoom and streaming was emphatically answered in Nashville, YES! The joy of sharing knowledge, meeting new friends, reminiscing with old acquaintances, and having a great time is hard to beat.

As you are making your plans for 2024, make sure and save September 27 – October 1 so you can attend next year’s 128th Annual Meeting & OTO Experience in Miami, Florida, which is also an exciting cosmopolitan city where you can learn and enjoy. It promises to be a truly exciting international event. Next year’s meeting will debut our new meeting footprint, which includes an education program that runs from Saturday through Tuesday to minimize the time away from your practices and patients. Let’s break our record for total attendance next year in Miami! I look forward to seeing you there.