Getting the Most Out of a Medical Conference

September 17, 2014
Sue Jacques

Attending a conference shouldn't be done on the fly. If you prepare ahead of time and have a plan, you'll get the most value for your time.

Medical conferences are as valuable as you make them. In addition to expanding your knowledge base, they also provide opportunities to confer with colleagues and collaborate with experts, and connect with classmates. The difference between simply attending a convention and maximizing its worth lies in your approach. Showing up is one thing; having a plan of action is another.  

The medical abbreviation PRN represents the Latin term pro re nata, literally translated to mean "as needed" or "when circumstances require." I use it here to represent a trio of tasks that you can use as needed to increase your satisfaction and enhance your experience at a medical conference. Here's how The PRN Method will help you get the most out of a medical conference, in three simple steps:

P = Preparation: Whether the conference is small and local or huge and distant, you will benefit tremendously by planning in advance. Generally speaking, the more complicated the agenda, the more preparation you need. First things first: Large conferences usually require pre-registration for breakout sessions, and the sessions featuring the most popular speakers can fill up in an instant. Study the event program as soon as it becomes available and determine which speakers and subjects are your top picks, so you can register ASAP.

Second, do some research on the host, sponsors, and other attendees. Knowing who will be there ahead of time will allow you the luxury of following some people on social media, while reaching out to others ahead of the conference to make connections and arrange meetings.

Third, find out what the dress expectations are for both educational and social events, so you can plan your wardrobe accordingly. You don't want to be the one sporting casual khakis while everyone else is decked out in formal business suits.

And finally, take note of the layout of the venue. If possible, do a walkabout before the event begins, so you'll know in advance where you're going and how to get there.

R = Respect: Speakers, meeting planners, volunteers, technical staff, and other participants deserve to be treated courteously at conferences. Latecomers, session-bouncers, and electronic interruptions can devalue presentations and annoy everyone in the room. You will demonstrate respect by being on time for main stage, breakout, and social events. Always sit near the door of the room if you know you will need to leave early, or if you're not sure if the topic or speaker is of interest to you. Tuck electrical cords, briefcases, and purses out of the way, and silence your electronic devices. If the session is being video recorded, always walk behind the camera or duck down if you need to go in front of it.

And, no matter how fascinated or frustrated you are by what the speaker has shared, don't monopolize his time during or after his presentation. It's perfectly acceptable to approach him for a brief discussion if circumstances and time permit, but keep in mind that (a) he may have somewhere else to be, (b) other people may want to speak with him, and (c) the room might be needed for the next session. You're often better off quickly expressing your gratitude or grievance and then share your interest in connecting with the speaker another time.

N = Networking: You never know who you'll meet at these events, which is why it's imperative that you're ready to make solid connections. Begin by wearing the nametag that is provided. Not only will you bail people out who've forgotten who you are, you will help others remember you by displaying your name with pride. Also, bring plenty of business cards to share. No matter how technical we get, exchanging tangible contact information is still one of the most effective ways of being remembered after meeting someone new. Take the lead by introducing yourself with a smile and a strong handshake, and promote interesting conversations by being well read, asking great questions, and actively listening to what others have to share.

After the conference, make sure to honor your commitments to get together or stay in touch. If you really want to stand out, keep in mind that it can never hurt to send a heartfelt note of appreciation to the event organizers, host, speakers, or sponsors.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO®, a keynote speaker, corporate civility consultant, and author who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence and prosper through professionalism. Previously, Jacques spent 18 years as a death investigator at the medical examiner's office. www.TheCivilityCEO.com