Saturday, April 19, 2014

5 Keys for Making the Most of a Convention

When you're a health care professional, student, or faculty, you owe it to yourself and your profession to attend pertinent conventions each year. Figuring out which sessions to attend at that convention, though, can be daunting.

Here are five tips to help you maximize your learning at a professional conference.

#1  Plan ahead

Check your association's website two weeks before the event and download the agenda. It should be available by then. Highlight all the sessions you want to attend, whether at the same time or not.

After highlighting your favorites, rank them in order of preference. Maybe your first choice will end up being canceled. Ranking your choices will allow you to quickly move to your second choice without reviewing again all the options in that time slot.

#2  Read descriptions carefully

Pay attention to the description of each session. Session titles can be deceiving. It seems that many speakers want their titles to be cute or funny, and that's fine, but those titles may not spell out exactly what the content will be.

Pay attention to adjectives that describe the content. For instance, if a description reads, "Learn simple techniques for handing conflicts," you can bet the session won't dig into conflict resolution but instead cover just the basics.

#3  Don't believe the descriptions

I speak often at conferences, and I know that as much as I plan ahead, there are times I don't have the full content of the workshop finished until shortly before the convention. Unless a speaker gives the same presentation over and over, they probably don't finalize it until near the convention too.

That means that the description the speaker gave the association ahead of time may change before the conference. Sometimes it changes only a little, but sometimes it changes a lot.

Make sure to review the final program when you register at the convention to make sure that the session still meets your needs.

#4  Check out the speakers

Identify the top two or three sessions you really want to see, and then evaluate the speaker. If you know the speaker already and like him or her, great, move on.

But if you don't, do an online search of the speaker to learn more about them. Let's say you'll be attending a session by a university professor. Go to and see if you can find the person's name.

If you see comments suggesting that the person is, um, less than dynamic, you might want to choose another session.

#5  See the sights

Make sure to leave some time to take in a few of the sights in the convention city. If you're in, say, Nashville (where I am as I write this), I'd recommend visiting the Grand Ole Opry. I mean, how can you not?

Get out of the convention hotel and find somewhere great to eat. Use UrbanSpoon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, or some other site to find a place where the locals go. Get a flavor for the area because, well, who knows when you'll be back?