If you're like me, you love conference travel. If you're not like me, then this may be all uncharted territory.
I'm currently at the AACP conference until Tuesday (and would love to meet up if you're here!) and have a bit of free time due to #13 (see below).
If you're thinking about attending your first pharmacy conference, here are a few personal and professional things I've learned over the years of traveling to national and regional meetings:
- Be prepared for long days. Most days will be jampacked with programming and social events from sun-up to sun-down.
- Get ready to be "professionally recharged". I always return from conferences with a re-energized perspective on my career and the profession. The excitement and buzz of a conference can provide long-lasting side effects when you return home.
- Stay hydrated. Traveling, walking, talking can lead to dehydration. I like to bring a reusable water bottle and refill throughout the day. Most conferences will have water stations to refill your bottle.
- Don’t forget to pack your chargers. Electrical outlets can be hard to come by in the airport, conference center, and when you are out and about after the meeting.
- Learn as much as you can. This is likely the only time you have interrupted to learn as much as possible! You will be learning about the newest and best practices in pharmacy, and this professional development should be beneficial to your current/future job responsibilities.
- Set your "out of office" replies and block off your calendar. I would consider auto-replies even if you will be checking your email during conference travel. This allows others to have an understanding of delayed email replies and also to realize they should not book any commitments with you during your time away.
- Get ready to connect on LinkedIn. While business cards are still common, LinkedIn is an increasingly popular mode of connection at professional conferences. If your profile is not up to date, consider blocking off an hour of your workweek the week prior to travel to update it.
- Bring comfortable shoes. Depending on which conference center you’re at or what city you’re in, you might average 8-10 miles a day. I made the mistake at my first national conference of bringing the worst possible choice of shoes (for me - high heels) on day one. Let's just say walking throughout the rest of the conference was a bit of a challenge.
- Find time to unwind. Sight-see, eat great food, connect with family and friends back home, spend some time for yourself exercising or meditating. The best conferences have this downtime built in. 🙂
- Make it a point to meet at least 3 new people a day. This should be easy! When participating in networking sessions or receptions, be cognizant of not just remaining comfortable with colleagues you already know. A great question to lead with after your introduction is "What is the most exciting thing you learned today?"
- Bring back key takeaways to your workplace. If they are funding you to attend, it would be beneficial to repay the favor and share what you’ve learned. Additionally, your colleagues who weren't able to make it will be grateful for your willingness to contribute back to the department.
- Bring snacks. Conference center food is not cheap. Also, because you’ll be burning lots of calories, you’ll want to replenish them throughout the day.
- Pack a complete outfit in your carry on. I learned this lesson the hard way on this trip. My luggage didn’t leave my departing airport and I came to discover at my final destination (at 12 am) that I didn’t have much of anything with me (yikes!).
- Look for opportunities to volunteer. I can say with confidence that involvement with professional organizations has allowed me to be more effective in my career. Additionally, the rewards of working on something bigger than yourself, in small or big ways, will undoubtedly be personally rewarding.
- Map out your schedule ahead of time. Many large conferences have an app associated with their meeting. This app often serves as another way to network and share your activities at the meeting with others.
- Find out the dress code. Most conferences are business casual at a minimum, however, others are more formal. Consider asking colleagues who have attended about their experience and what most attendees were wearing.
- Follow up with your new connections when you return home. Be sure to send a private message on LinkedIn or a follow-up e-mail regarding your conversation with your new connection. What did you learn about that person? Make a meaningful connection with your new colleague.
- Learn public speaking tips from great presenters. While you are enjoying the learning, jot down a few notes about what you thought the speaker(s) did well. When did you feel most engaged during the presentation? How did the speaker(s) use technology effectively? What are some things you would do differently?
- Create a plan for follow up. While conferences can be overwhelming in a good way, one of the biggest challenges I've found is distilling all of my enthusiasm and newfound information into actionable items upon returning home. One thing I've found helpful is to create a list of "Follow Up" items in the airport/on the plane during my return trip.
- Enjoy. Simple. 🙂 Take a moment to reflect during your time away.
If you have other tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you!
Jackie is a coach at the Happy PharmD. She loves her family, changing the world, and pharmacy. 🙂