As professionals, we know that graduating from university is not the end of our education. Not only do we need continuing education credits for state licenses and national certifications, but we also need to keep up to date on the constant updates and changes in medicine, healthcare, and legislation.
Conferences are a great way to get some needed education and credits, greet our old and new friends, re-energize our passion for the work we do and get away. They range from small state and local conferences that may be just 1/2 day long to 3 days long, to national conferences that may run a week….not counting pre and post-conference workshops.
Larger conferences can be thrilling…being around 5,000 plus of our friends and colleagues is energizing for many of us. For others, it’s a bit overwhelming, and for some, it can be downright anxiety-provoking, especially when it’s their first time attending such an event.
Inevitably, we leave something at home, forget to confirm something, don’t have our business cards and the like.
And if you have ever arrived at a conference and found your room had been given away and there was nothing else to be had in town (yes, that did happen to me!)…well, it adds to the stress (and the flavor) of a large conference.
So, whether you are attending your first conferences or your 20th, here are some tips to help make your experience a memorable one.
Make reservations as soon as you can. If you are attending one of the larger conferences, you’ll find that rooms fill up fast at the main hotels, as well as the overflow hotels.
Call ahead to confirm your reservations a few days before you arrive. And if you are arriving early, see if you can get an early check-in. Same thing if you are leaving late…ask if a late checkout is possible.
While there is always a shuttle bus available, you may find it is more cost-effective and perhaps less hassle to share a cab or use a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft, once you arrive at the airport.
Attempt to get a lay of the land prior to arrival; it might help reduce frustration. Airport terminal maps and Google maps can be particularly helpful for this.
And consider keeping a collapsible bag in your luggage, for “just-in-case” travel keepsakes, exhibit hall giveaways, or that side shopping trip.
Make a list of people you’ve been wanting to me. See if you can contact them ahead of time and offer to buy them coffee or a meal. Not possible? Why not attend one of their sessions and… ask?
Not sure that someone you want to meet is attending? Check the conference app; it may list attendees in addition to presenters. For example, the app for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners list attendees who have agreed to show their name and city.
Didn’t make arrangements beforehand and see someone you’ve been wanting to meet? Don’t be shy! Take a deep breath and go up to them. Need an ice-breaker? You might say something like “Hi Barbara, my name is Flo Nightingale and I’ve been wanting to meet you for a while, I follow you on Facebook and I want to open a practice”. (Of course, you’ll tweak that as appropriate).
Perhaps you made arrangements to meet someone and find that you can’t. Be polite and let them know as soon as possible. You may be able to message them through Facebook or another social media channel if you are unable to text them.
Bring business cards, they are great for networking. If you don’t have one, it’s well worth the effort to have some made. Check out places such as Vista Print for inexpensive but great cards. Leave one side blank for note taking. While I’m sure there are all sorts of electronic ways to exchange information, business cards are still the most universal…at least for now.
Speaking of business cards, apps such as Evernote allow you to snap a photo of the business card. Others will create a contact in your phone. Check your app store to see what’s available for your device. You may even want to snap their photo and their card to help jog your memory.
Organize a meet-up to with colleagues. We all develop great relationships with our colleagues on social media. The conference is is a great time to finally meet them in person.
One way to do this is to create an event in your Facebook group, or go to Meetup and create an event. That said, be flexible. Sometimes networking events at conferences may happen spontaneously.
While we sometimes spend too much time on social media, you’ll want to check in during the conference as new events and other activities may be listed there. You may even discover that someone wants to meet you and is looking for you!
General Conference Tips
First steps: preparation. Look at the conference material before you get there. Make sure you know the sessions you’ve planned to attend and once you arrive, check for updates.
If you arrive the day before, see if you can register then and avoid the long lines the morning the conference starts.
Scope out key strategic locations ahead of time if possible. Restrooms, coffee shops, restaurants and the like. At larger conferences, these places almost always have lines. Perhaps you can find something that is a bit out of the way that is less likely to have lines when you are in a hurry.
Be prepared for variable weather conditions. Rooms are purposively kept cool and air conditioning can be a bit chilly for some.
Drink lots of water. Not only is it usually hot in most host cities, but your hydration status may suffer from the effects of air conditioning and air travel.
Many conferences now have apps you can download to your phone. In addition to having your schedule at your fingertips, apps may also have maps and other information which will make your conferencing going easier. These apps will make it a snap to get your CEUs as well!
Carry food and snacks if possible. Avoid some of the unhealthy choices found in resorts, and save money and time by avoiding the long lines.
Want to keep your feet happy? Consider a good pair of walking or running shoes. Those cute sandals will probably not serve you well at a larger conference, where you’ll average 5+ miles per day.
Make sure you carry chargers or portable batteries for phones, tablets, computers, and other portable devices.
To lighten your load when leaving the conference, avoid all (or be selective) product samples and promotional giveaways in the exhibit.
Many larger conferences are held at family-friendly locations. Consider bringing your family along for a bit of R&R before or after the conference.
Conferences are a great place to expand your horizon. Consider sitting in on sessions that are outside of your area of expertise. It’ll be good for you and your patients.
Attending any conference, small and local or large and national, involves spending time, energy. and money. Make the most of it.
And if you see me at one of these conferences, I look forward to meeting you!
What are your favorite tips? Please share below.