Attending a medical conference can add value to both your professional abilities as well as your practice. That being said, most of us would probably agree that, on at least one occasion, we have returned from a conference feeling that it did not provide the return we expected. Conferences are an investment of not only your time, but also money for things such as airline tickets, hotel stays, food, registration fees, etc. Therefore, we should expect to come back from a conference with some tangible returns such as new skills, new best practices and/or new strategies to implement.
As with most things, you need to have a clearly defined plan before you venture off. So, we are offering this blog to help you get the most out of your next conference experience.
List Out Your Conference Goals
Start by asking yourself, “What am I hoping to get out of this conference?” or “What do I hope to achieve by going?”
If you have chosen to put the time, effort and money into attending a conference, you need to go into it with a clear understanding of your goals before you show up at the event. You need to arrive at the conference with a better plan than just “Show up, look at the paper schedule, and pick a few sessions.”
To start off on the right foot, begin by listing out your goals for this conference by considering the following questions:
- What specific skills or info do you wish to learn at this conference?
- What activities do you want to do?
- What are your goals for personal/career growth?
- What are some improvements or areas of focus that need attention at your practice?
Identify Conference Resources
Conferences want their attendees to have the best possible experience. Why? Because they also want people to come back to their conferences. In order to facilitate a great experience, as well as to generate pre-conference buzz, organizers often provide resources to assist attendees in navigating the event. You should go ahead and seek out such resources, which can often be found on the conference website and include such useful items as these:
- Conference Mobile App: Apps are fast becoming the norm for conferences, as they allow organizers to provide all resources in a single location that can be accessed with a cell phone or mobile device. Be sure to download the conference app, if one is available.
- Venue Map: Familiarizing yourself with the venue in advance is a good way to save yourself a lot of time on site.
- Session Agenda: Peruse the available sessions in advance and compare them to your list of conference goals. Identify which sessions will best help you to meet those goals and plan to attend them.
- One-on-One Sessions: Participating in a face-to-face meeting with an industry or product expert.
- Service Resources: Conferences offer various types of resources for activities related to career development, consulting and benchmarking review.
- Support Stations: Sometimes called “Q&A booths,” these informational hubs are often available for the service of attendees. If you have educational goals for which you have not found a resource, for example, this is a great place to find answers.
Resources like those listed above often make it possible for you to get all the information you need. At this point, you probably feel pretty ready. But wait… you still have one thing left to do.
Bring the Right Stuff
Seriously. You need to pack the right things. And no, this does not mean you need to pack ALL THE THINGS. You are spending a few days at a conference, not taking a month-long tour of Europe. Figure out what items you are going to need and make sure to bring them along. Anything after that is just making your suitcase heavier for no good reason.
Here’s a list of things you definitely need to pack:
- Footwear: One pair of comfortable walking shoes, one pair of sandals/flipflops and one pair of dress shoes.
- Clothes: An appropriate amount of daily clothes (check the conference website for a dress code), as well as at least one semi-formal outfit (just in case) and maybe a swimsuit (you might want to take a dip in the hotel pool, after all). You also might want to bring a light jacket or hoodie, as session rooms are sometimes kept at a rather chilly temperature.
- Toiletries: These items will vary by individual but should include whatever you usually need in order to look “put together” each day.
- Notetaking Materials: This can be a pen and paper or a mobile tablet, whichever you prefer.
- Electronic/Charging Items: Whatever gadgets you need, as well as the accessories that keep all of them going—cell phone/mobile device, chargers, extra batteries, laptop, power cords, etc.
Once you’ve done all of the above, you are all set. Enjoy the conference! But…
The Road Back (to Work)
So, it’s the last night of the conference. You are dressed to the nines and looking forward to knocking everyone dead with your legendary performance of the Electric Slide (or the Cha-Cha Slide, if you prefer). But wait a minute. Before you hit that dancefloor for a night of regretfully offbeat dancing, you have one last thing left to do—define your return goal(s).
After all, come Monday you will have to go back to the practice. How are you going to demonstrate that the conference you just attended was worth the investment of your practice’s time and money? In other words, what do you plan to do differently when you return? What changes do you plan to implement? What new skills have you acquired that would you like to teach to your fellow staff members? Are there any new best practices that you think would be beneficial to your practice?
Take a moment to jot these things down… and please be sure to put this in a location where it won’t just be forgotten or tossed away while you are unpacking.
One great way of doing this is to simply send yourself an email that contains this list of actionable items. That way, when you return to the office, it will be right there waiting in your inbox.
Once back at the office (after you finish catching up on all the other emails and such, of course), you should open that email you sent to yourself at the end of the conference. Use these notes to create a benchmarking action plan, which can then be presented to the rest of your practice (an excellent way to show the boss, if you have one, that the conference was worth the investment), illustrating ways to improve processes or performance.
Attending a healthcare conference should be a fun, educational, rewarding and value-adding experience. With a little early planning, you can have the best conference ever.