How to get the most out of attending a conference.

Last week I ticked a few CPD boxes and went to the FISIC conference. I work at the clinic which organises this international event, so it was kind of expected of me to attend, but it’s a good conference never the less. Not all conferences are amazeballs quality however, and I’ve learned to lower my expectations about what I will actually get out of these events, educationally.

Now I’ve got a whole new attitude. Rather than go for the learning, I go for the connections.

Here are my top tips for getting the best out of attending, when it comes to growing your private practice.

Private practice Ninja helper   Get there early and get stuck into brekkie chat, rather than skulk in at five to nine to pick up your lanyard and the ‘well-intentioned’ branded bag, that you will later pop into the recycling. Why not get there early, loiter with intent, and introduce yourself to the first speakers of the day. No doubt they will be in the refreshment area, reverberating nervously from too much caffeine, keen to see friendly faces.
Which leads to point number two…
Private practice Ninja helper   Do your homework on who will be speaking. Have a look at the schedule and ask yourself is there a key influencer in your field, that you would like to connect with? Maybe you are a respiratory physio who does home visits, and you can help improve the welfare of a Paediatrician’s neuro patients?
Ignore any NHS instilled hierarchical nonsense about not approaching those you deem to be more experienced or ‘senior’ to yourself. Get stuck in and start a chat with the speaker, and ask them about a patient you have had a management controversy with. Clinicians (and their egos) love being asked for their take on how to manage things. When you’re done with that, ask them if you can come and sit in on their clinic, theatre list or MDT meeting.
Be proactive and you will really stick in the speaker’s mind.
Private practice Ninja helper   Connect with other delegates. If you are attending a forward-thinking conference, they will be asking folk to share their plans to attend on social media. If they are really proactive, they may have a Twitter list of delegates and they’ll encouraging them to make a big squawk about it. If you are traveling alone to a conference, it can help to break the ice, if you’ve already connected with, and chatted with, attendees on-line. Plus, it’s kind of fun to put a face to a Twitter handle.

Need tips on getting the very best from your Social media platforms? click HERE

Private practice Ninja helper   Plan how you are going to handle your social media. Some conferences have massive followings on social media and will be trying to ‘trend’ by getting as many attendees as possible to post rapidly online, using a conference hashtag. Perhaps you’ve seen this in action, and have attended a conference where they are streaming social media on a big screen using an application such as ‘LiveWall’ or ‘CrowdScreen’.
This is a stellar way to get front and centre in front of attendees and be re-tweeted.
If you have a great comment to make about a speaker, which you post along with a fabulous smart-phone snapped pic of them in on-stage action, you stand a good chance of getting re-tweeted. I love to do this.
Private practice Ninja helper   Prep some pre-conference content. This is an ingenious way of getting your expertise across to attendees who will be following social media at the conference. Let’s say you have spied that one of the speakers is going to talk about ‘Repair of abdominal wall herniae’ and you are a women’s health physio. You could find a way to link up tweets and direct people to your website, where you have strategically blogged about women who have persistent rectus diastasis. People love to click on links in conferences and see what other delegates are up to.
If you do this well and you are re-tweeted by a prominent speaker, it can really help to grow your social media following.
Private practice Ninja helper   Make sure you take tech and business cards. If you want to get ahead of your peers, take along an iPad or even small laptop so that you can bash away on HootSuite, Twitter or Buffer, in real time. If you’re also required to produce reflective feedback on your ‘learnings’ for an annual appraisal, it’s a fantastic way to make notes in your appraisal platform such as ‘Clarity’. You can literally do this as you go along and it really saves on the annual CPD slog. Sweeeeet and tweeeeeet.
Private practice Ninja helper   Be strategic in your follow-up. So many clinicians I know turn up at conferences, have feeble intentions of connecting with attendees again, yet never flippin’ get around to it.

What a wasted opportunity!

Even if you couldn’t get the chance to speak with your much-admired, keynote speaker, you’ve got the perfect excuse to connect with them afterwards and ask them questions. Google them, hunt them down on LinkedIn, and if you liked what they had to say, leave them some helpful, positive feedback on their website’s latest blog post. Don’t forget to sign up to Gravatar if you’re not already making use of it – read more HERE. If you get some engagement, ask to meet with them.

This is only going to happen if you make time and schedule it. I like to give two hours on the day following the conference to make sure I really do follow up with attendees. You will be fresh in their minds and re-connecting will feel natural, not false.

Private practice Ninja helper   Finally, there is nothing better for growing your following than being a speaker yourself. Don’t wait to be asked. Connect with event organisers after the conference, tell them how much it inspired you, and offer yourself up as a speaker or to help put together a workshop. This works particularly well if you can add a different angle to the usual presenter’s viewpoint.
For example… you might be a physio who has got something to say about rehab in an otherwise orthopaedically surgically saturated event, or you could be a pain therapist who is able to enlighten gynaecologists about pelvic pain.
You don’t have to be a massively worldwide published expert (ok, so it helps if you are ; ), but maybe your years of experience mean that you can share practical ways to enhance other clinicians’ care of patients.
For example… if you are able to give a little hands-on session for GPs, on how to quickly and confidently examine a patient to determine if it’s a hip or lumbar spine issue that’s the patient’s problem.
Conference organisers have a tough time and a limited budget, when it comes to filling those speaking slots. You will be doing them a massive favour if you volunteer.

How about a little helpful Ninja dose on public speaking ? click HERE for useful tips.

When you’re next giving a talk, no matter how humble the gathering, see if a you can get a ‘chum’ to capture a little bit of video footage of you on their smart phone. You can send it to the organisers of future conferences, so they get a feel for your style of speaking, and makes it much more likely they’ll give you a gig spot.

So next time you find yourself signing up for a conference, make the investment and effort go that much further by using it as the perfect opportunity to grow your private practice.

Sometimes, we all need a little extra help in building our practices – from a business perspective, as well as a clinical one.

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