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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Make the Most of A National Conference - 4th Edition

OK, I know I said that the last post was the last one about the conference, but this one is about conferences in general.

I compiled this list of helpful hints from my own experiences and from peers input over the past few years. I think it may be helpful to first timers but also to veterans of national/regional meetings like the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) Annual Assembly. I have reorganized the list into with some prioritizing/categorizing and added more content on presenting. I have also made the language more neutral to apply to any conference, besides Palliative Medicine.

This was originally posted to the AAHPM Professionals-in-Training Special Interest Group email list.

Any comments are appreciated. Feel free to agree/disagree or add hints.

Christian Sinclair's Handy Hints for a National Meeting
Originally written Jan 2005, Updated 2006, 2007, 2008


* If you are bringing family or a significant other, make sure to spend some time with them.
* Bring business cards, lots of them. Make sure they have your email on them. If they do not write your email a number of the cards so when you hand them out, you are not trying to find a pen right then to add it.
* When you get a business card from someone else, immediately write down what you were talking to that person about. If the time isn't right, then do it soon afterwards. When you get home, you will have met so many people, you won't remember who that person was, as throw out their business card.
* If you get someone's business card, and you don't care if you ever interact with them again, make a special symbol that only you know on it, so you know to throw it out when you start going through all the business cards. Not everyone you meet is going to be a hub of a network you need.
* Bring your CV (multiple copies, and UPDATED), regardless of whether you are looking for a job. Many people may want to know more about you for networking reasons, not just job offers.
* Turn in your session evaluations in a timely manner.
* Find someone who is organizing the event and let them know they are doing a excellent job. They don't hear that enough, and are probably pretty exhausted from putting out everybody's "EMERGENCY!" They have put a lot of hard work and seldom get recognized.
* Also find the conference chairs and thank them. While likely celebrities in the field, they don't always get personal recognition for the months of work put into coordinating the activity.
* Reconnect with old friends.
* Try and get out and see the city you are in, since you never know when you will be back there or if it will be devastated by a major hurricane.
* Ask other attendees what talks they are planning on going to or avoiding. You may find something interesting to you that did not strike you at first. Kind of like a "If you like X, then try Y."


* Talk to people.
* Don't sit by yourself unless you are the first person in the room. Sit next to someone and then introduce yourself.
* Don't stay in your room too much, you'll miss too many opportunities
* Stay in your room sometimes. Take some time to unwind and be yourself.
* There is usually a bulletin board in a central place where people post messages: Look there for any messages regarding you or get-togethers you are interested in.
* When you go out with other people, you do not HAVE to talk about your field. (The people at the table next to you may appreciate that).
* You should make lunch/dinner plans with people outside the group you came with, but invite your group along too, if appropriate.


* Try to ask a question in at least one session that strongly interests you.
* When you ask a question, introduce who you are, and where you are from (quickly). This helps calm you down if you are nervous to ask your question. It also lets the audience know if they want to talk to YOU after the session if they have similar interests.
* Ask your question succinctly. Other people have questions too.
* When you come back to work, schedule an educational session with interested parties to share everything you learned there.
* Don't just depend on your notes during each session; chances are you will never look at them again. Write down key facts you have learned towards the end of the day.
* Go to the poster sessions and talk to the people who made the posters. A lot of hard work went into most of these, and everyone likes to hear when they have done a job well.
* Go to at least one paper session. The concurrent sessions are great but you can find out some interesting up and coming things in the paper sessions.
* Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to any of the 'celebrities' in the field. Most of the well-known people are very friendly and willing to talk, just make sure they are not in a rush for somewhere else. If you don't read the situation right, they will cut the interaction short, and you will think they are a big jerk. Remember, a lot of people would like to have their attention.
* After a session, if you talk with a speaker, make your point or ask your question, and then allow others to interact. Nothing is worse, than trying to make a quick point after a session, then the know-it-all who wants to take up all the time of the presenter without regards to other people's interest.
* If you don't like a session, leave. Make the most of your time there.


* Start on time. Respect the people who got there to hear you speak.
* End on time. Respect the people who are still there at the end of your talk.
* Don't read your slides. Your slides should never be able to give your talk without you.
* Repeat every question you are asked, because the whole audience likely missed some/all of it.
* Thank people who asked the question. Even if it was a dumb/condescending/off-topic question. Your audience will admire your graciousness and know the questioner is an imbecile without you implying so.
* Don't take too long to answer the question. If you are covering it later, say so. If the answer will take a lot of time, give a short answer and ask those who are interested in the long answer to meet after the talk.
* If you are presenting and after the talk is over you encounter the know-it-all who wants all of your time (see above), make sure to set limits, and let others ask you questions.
* Bring your power cord.
* Email your talk. Have it on a jump drive. And on your hard drive. Never too cautious.
* Don't change your slides from the handout whenever possible.
* If the slides presented are different from the slides in the handout, mark the title of the slide with an asterisk to remind you to inform your audience.
* Turn off all unneeded programs. IM, Website alerts, Weather alerts, CITRIX prompts, etc.
* Give credit to others who helped prepare your talk, especially if they are there.
* Put your contact information on the last slide if you would like people to contact you about your topic.
* If you are a presenter at this meeting or anywhere, take note of how other presenters are effective or ineffective. Think of how you may incorporate/avoid their style in any of your future talks.

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