Tips to make the most out of your national medical meeting

Here is the latest edition of Handy Hints for a National Meeting. The original version was written in 2005 (editions have been more often than yearly).

My first national medical conference was a whirlwind of new ideas and experiences some of which I was not necessarily prepared for.

General

  • If you are bringing family or a significant other, spend some time with them.
  • If you don’t bring family or a significant other, leave something nice for them to discover at home while you are gone.
  • Bring business cards, lots of them. Make sure they have your email on them. (If they don’t, write your email a number of the cards so when you hand them out, you are not trying to find a pen to add it.)
  • Give your contact info away with a text! Use Contxts to allow people to get your customized contact info in a text all for free save the cost of the texts.  Try it and text ‘ctsinclair’ to 50500. Also good to have at the end of a presentation.
  • When receiving a business card, immediately write down the topic of interest you were discussing with that person. 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. Opportunity lost.
  • 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.
  • Turn in session evaluations in a timely manner. And give some valuable feedback. Bad speakers need to know they are bad and why and what to improve. Be specific! Don’t give bad speakers a 4 out of 5!
  • Find someone who is organizing the event and let them know they are doing an excellent job. They don’t hear it enough. They are probably pretty exhausted from putting out everybody’s “EMERGENCY!” They have put in 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, flood, earthquake, killer tomato, or anarchists.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, you will be doing a LOT of walking! But try to be a little stylish, you don’t know if you will be going out to dinner later and have no chance to get back to your hotel room.
  • Ask other attendees what talks they are going to or avoiding. You may find something interesting you had previously overlooked.
  • 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. (Or have your CV digitally available so you can email it to someone.)
  • Update your LinkedIn Profile before you go to a conference as people may be checking you out without asking you.
  • If it is a conference outside the US, check your cell phone for extra costs/access BEFORE you go!

Networking

  • Don’t sit by yourself unless you are the first person in the room.
  • Talk to people.
  • Sit next to someone and then introduce yourself.  Then ask all about them; you will be surprised how much people enjoy talking about themselves.
  • Don’t stay in your hotel room too much, you’ll miss too many opportunities.
  • Stay in your hotel 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). Make a game to see how long you can go without talking about your work.
  • You should make lunch/dinner plans with people outside the group you came with, but invite your group along too, if appropriate.
  • Connect with attendees before you go through social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
  • Use the business cards you collected during the meeting to see if anyone is on LinkedIn. This makes it easy to get their latest contact info and you can toss the card since you have an updated digital version.
  • If you contact someone on a social network after the conference, be kind and add a little note about why you are connecting with them. They likely met a lot of people and may not remember you. And with your notes you wrote on the business card (see first section), you look like you have a super memory!
  • See if people are Twittering about your conference on search.twitter.com
  • Know the hashtag for the conference and use it in your tweets. (AAHPM conference will be using #hpm)
  • Put something colorful or interesting but not too noticeable on your name badge. People will ask you about it and then you can tell them what it signifies. Note: Do not say, “It signifies something to get people to talk to me.” Although that would be pretty funny.
  • Trying to hire people?  Get a custom printed bag that says “Now hiring!” with your logo or something clever that will get people to talk to you.  I had Pallimed bags last year and people kept asking about them.

Education

  • Try to ask a question in at least one session that strongly interests you.
  • When you ask a question, first thank the speaker, 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.
  • Don’t hog the mic. 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. Your business may let you go to the next conference if you educate others.
  • 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.
  • Pick a method to highlight key facts or notes. Tag good notes with a star or different color pen while you are taking them. When you get back it will make it much easier to find the ‘GREAT’ ideas or ‘ACTIONABLE’ plans. Or you can Tweet the really good ones too.
  • 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 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 at a conference.

Christian Sinclair is a palliative care physician who blogs at Pallimed.

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