Registration, check. Flights, booked. Hotel, reservations confirmed. You know there is a plethora of information that will be presented at the conference you are about to attend, but are you really getting everything out of that time away from work?
Conferences and workshops reveal findings from cutting-edge research, provide updates regarding traditional veterinary medicine and offer business advice. Ultimately, educational events deliver tips and strategies to apply in your practice. In addition to training, industry events are the perfect place to network, build relationships and establish your credibility within the field.
Industry events can be expensive, so it’s important to maximize your experience. Once you’ve committed to attending an event, it’s time to strategize how to make the most of a one-day or multi-day event. Our experts offer advice for first-time and experienced participants alike.
Maximize Education Sessions
Knowledge is the prime goal for most event attendees. Learning about the latest advances in veterinary practices is important to treating your patients back home. Larger educational events offer multiple workshops at the same time throughout the day. Deciding which sessions are the best fit for your practice and personal development objectives is crucial to leaving satisfied.
“Create a daily schedule prior to your first day of arrival,” said Diane Lallman, senior account executive at Fern Expo in North Carolina.
Accomplish this by obtaining the daily session schedule, as well as the expo/trade show schedule and exhibitor list, as early as they’re available. Visit the event website for a preview of session topics and presenters. Larger events offer dozens, if not hundreds, of different sessions over several days. It can be daunting to decide which sessions to attend. Read and consider the options before arriving on site to make the event less overwhelming.
“If your main focus is to attend sessions and the expo is secondary, add to your daily schedule the sessions you want to attend and their times. This will allow you to see how much time you have available to visit the exhibit floor,” recommended Lallman.
Find out ahead of time whether the event organizers offer an app for phones or tablets. When an event hosts an app, these include the most updated schedule information. These platforms typically include functions for planning a daily schedule, downloading presentation materials and space for taking notes.
Heidi Longton is a Meeting Professionals International (MPI)-accredited trainer and board facilitator who offers advice for maximizing learning objectives once on site.
“Listen to the questions, challenges and issues that arise from other attendees. Listen to the solutions, especially those presented by other attendees,” Longton said. “You will likely walk away with ‘best practices’ from those who have encountered the very same hurdles.”
At the end of each workshop, note the speaker’s name and contact information. There might be a time in the future when you will need that person’s expertise, Longton advised.
Network Like a Pro
Networking is typically tied with learning as the prime objective for attending industry events. For some people, the thought of interacting with a room full of strangers is distressing. Even for individuals who appear at ease, striking up conversations can feel uncomfortable. But it’s a necessity for discovering alternative approaches to patient treatment and career advancement.
If you feel anxious about networking, you’re not alone. Research shows that networking elicits negative feelings, a sense of exploitation and selfishness.
“People feel like they are extracting something from someone else,” said Tiziana Casciaro, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Business and Management and the Jim Fisher professor of leadership development at the University of Toronto.
That feeling is in direct conflict with moral standards that teach people that they should be giving rather than receiving, she said. Morality is a self-concept that is related to authenticity. During the networking process, people tend to perceive themselves differently—as not truly themselves. It’s an internal psychological process. In reality, the other person is not judging you that way.
“Study after study reveals that people feel selfish and develop a sense of dirtiness or moral impurity,” she said.
Interestingly, that feeling is limited to professional networking. Social networking that is done to make friends doesn’t have the same connotation, because there is a perceived mutual benefit.
In a Harvard Business Review article co-written by Casciaro, Francesca Gino (a professor at Harvard Business School) and Maryam Kouchaki (assistant professor of management and organizations at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University) shared the results of an experiment.
The team asked 306 adults to write about times when they engaged either in networking for professional advancement or in social networking to make friends.
Casciaro explained that participants were asked to complete word fragments, such as W _ _ H, S H _ _ E R, and S _ _ P.
“Participants who had recalled professional networking wrote “WASH,” “SHOWER,” and “SOAP”—words associated with cleanliness—twice as frequently as those who had recalled social networking, who more often wrote neutral words such as “WISH,” “SHAKER,” and “STEP,” she said.
Most participants viewed networking to socialize and make friends as positive. They saw networking to enhance their careers as distinctly negative. Their negativity was not simply dislike or discomfort. It was a deeper feeling of moral contamination and inauthenticity.
The good news is that this a mindset and is totally under your control. Casciaro offers suggestions for shifting your outlook to make the most of the any networking situation.
Be spontaneous. Rather than targeting the individuals with whom you want to talk and seeking them out or uncomfortably waiting for a turn to speak with them, look for unstructured opportunities to interact. Casciaro recalls a particularly dreadful event as a doctorate student. The goal for her and all the students attending was to be visible to the “big shark” in the room. She recalled waiting in a line and feeling awkward the entire time.
“It was terrible, and I told myself I’d never do that again,” she said.
Now, when at industry events, she sits in the hotel lobby or other common gathering areas and is more accessible. People can easily approach her and say “hello,” and perhaps introduce her to someone new.
Be a giver. All professionals—from newcomers to seniors—have perspectives and expertise to share with one another. “If you think of networking as an opportunity to give as much as you get, it can be a more positive experience,” she said.
Be curious. Approach the interaction with curiosity about a shared interest or field of expertise. This creates a more positive connotation than when simply seeking an advancement opportunity.
Focus on the big picture or a higher purpose. Think about your staff, your clients and the horses you treat—the ones for whom you are networking.
“People who consider networking for themselves as a way to move forward feel worse about the experience than those who have a higher purpose,” Casciaro said. “It’s helpful to think about how your participation in the event allows you to provide the best care possible for the horses.”
You can tell yourself “I hate these kinds of events. I’m going to have to put on a show and schmooze and pretend to like it.” Or you can tell yourself “Who knows—it could be interesting. Sometimes when you least expect it, you have a conversation that brings up new ideas and leads to new experiences and opportunities.”
“Shifting your mindset, identifying and exploring shared interests, expanding your view of what you have to offer, and motivating yourself with a higher purpose can help you become more excited about and be more effective at building relationships that bear fruit for everyone,” she said.
Make the Most of the Trade Show
Larger events typically include an expo or trade show. Smaller workshops also might invite vendors to attend. Exhibitors make much of the entire event possible through sponsorships and booth fees. When traffic on the expo floor is light, these businesses don’t receive the value for which they were hoping, and might reconsider participation in following years.
“Take time to walk the entire exhibit hall,” Longton said. “Doing so shows support for those individuals and organizations who support the event.”
Besides expressing important appreciation for their support, visiting the trade show can provide an introduction to innovative products and services. You might not have an immediate need for a featured product, but you never know what might be relevant to you six, nine or 12 months down the road.
“Take particular note of the products and/or services available,” she said. “In the short term, vendors serve to expand your network. In the long term, vendors may be just the resource you need.”
Like the educational session agenda, an exhibitor listing is typically available ahead of time. Lallman recommended reviewing the exhibitor list prior to arrival. This can help you determine which booths to visit. Some events attract more than 100 exhibitors. Narrowing your list to the top five or 10 companies you want to see can help with scheduling.
“Then send an email to those companies asking to set an appointment time to meet during the show,” she said. “Exhibiting companies welcome this process. It allows you to keep your daily schedule on track and guarantees you will connect with those desired companies.”
Scheduling appointments also allows the exhibiting company the opportunity to have a dedicated representative available at that time. After you’ve had your appointments, you can walk the trade show floor knowing that your specific goals have been met.
Your trade show experience will be rewarding and stress-free when you have a daily agenda/schedule planned in advance, she said.
Attending an educational event for the first time is exciting. But there is a lot to fit into a few days, and it can be overwhelming. There are many educational sessions of interest, hundreds of new people to meet and countless products and services to explore.
Prior to leaving, identify your goals. Determine whether your main goal is to improve your knowledge of a treatment protocol or whether you’re hoping to meet a clinic owner looking to hire. Knowing what you hope to gain from the experience can guide you in determining which functions to attend.
If the event organizer publishes a list of attendees in advance, find your counterpart at another organization. Reach out to that individual before the event kicks off.
“Sometimes this leads to a traveling companion,” Longton said. “At the very least, these are individuals that you can look up once you get on site.”
The registration list might indicate all first-time attendees. Those first-time participants share the same feelings of excitement and hesitation. Reach out to some or all of those individuals before the event starts and make plans to connect on site.
Once you arrive, you’ll receive a name badge. Many times a ribbon or symbol on the name tag will indicate individuals who are attending for the first time. “Make particular note of this badge symbol. It is a natural way to begin a conversation with someone you don’t know at all,” Longton said.
Event organizers know that meeting new people is an important part of industry events. Multiple activities are typically built into the schedule just for this purpose. “Attend the networking functions, as these will give you the most opportunity to meet people,” Longton advised.
Relationships make industries go ’round. After the event, you should have numerous individuals with whom to connect on LinkedIn and other social platforms.
Industry events are recognized as critical to professional development. Veterinarians who embrace the benefits of attending an event often participate regularly. Comfort and familiarity come along with regular attendance.
“Veterans can easily get caught up in talking with those people they have known for many years, even decades, and time flies by,” Longton said. “There is always something to learn.”
Longton suggested introducing yourself, at every opportunity, to the newcomers in your industry. It will continue to expand your network, as well as provide them with a resource in the industry. It’s equally important for repeat attendees to attend the trade show to visit the vendors.
“And, as veterans, we have an inherent responsibility to complete the event evaluation, so planning staff has our feedback for future events,” she said.
Navigating a Host City
Event organizers often choose a destination that offers attendees a variety of activities for before and after conference activities. Sometimes the location can be as much of a draw as the educational component.
Before arriving, contact the concierge of the hotel in which you’re staying. “They are the connectors to all things within that city,” Lallman said.
For example, the concierge can tell you whether the hotel offers complimentary shuttles to and from the airport. If not, he or she can estimate an average taxi and/or recommend reliable shuttle services. Ask if other major events are happening in the city at the same time. This will allow you to plan for meals and activities not included in the registration fees. The concierge can provide a map of the facility and the city, as well as provide information about traveling to and from meeting spaces not at the hotel.
“Utilize the concierge. He or she is an endless resource for that city,” Lallman said.
Longton agreed, adding, “Their recommendations are tried and true to ensure your experience is a great one.” The location’s convention and visitor’s bureau (CVB) website can also provide highlights and suggestions.
“Visit the CVB website ahead of the event to see what will be going on at the time you will be in the city that may be of interest to you,” Longton said.
Always be aware of your surroundings. Choose recommended modes of transportation to and from the venue. When traveling alone, have a plan to check in with family and friends. Many cities offer nighttime activities. A hotel concierge can provide reputable options.
“In any location, safety should always come first,” Longton said.
Set Up for Success
Preparation is the key to making the most of any conference. Bring the right gear to remove as much stress as possible. Look into the dress code and pack shoes that are comfortable for walking to and from meeting rooms and around the trade show floor.
Remember to bring chargers for phones, tablets and laptops. You’re going to spend a huge part of your day on your devices taking notes and checking in at home, so don’t get caught with dead batteries. Charging stations are often scattered throughout events for easy access and on-the-go recharges.
Don’t forget your business cards. Bring enough so that you don’t run out midway through the event. Have some on hand and more stashed in your luggage. You never know how many people you’re going to meet.
Bring the materials you need for impromptu meetings and discussions. A clean copy of your résumé might come in handy for job seekers. A copy of your recent research study might be helpful for discussing findings. Clinical or case notes should be copied and brought for a difficult-to-treat malady about which you want to seek input, or to help pose questions you have for treatment protocols.
These events can be as exhausting as they are exciting. Pre-conference activities and evening cocktail hours mean the day begins early and ends late. The long hours can add up, especially over events that last multiple days. It will be impossible to fit everything in, so don’t wear yourself out trying.
Review the schedule and decide which activities are a “must” to attend and which are optional to meet your goals. It might be helpful to leave evening functions or dinners a little early to rest up for the next day’s activities.
Hubspot offers this prudent advice on its blog: “Get your rest, eat well and don’t party beyond what you’re used to—otherwise, you’ll find you’re too zonked out to take advantage of all the opportunities there are at that great event you’ve invested time and money into attending.”