I was trying to add up how many Alliance for CME conferences I have been to over the years and though I kept losing track, I think it’s somewhere right around ten.
(Side note: seriously, I think I might be losing brain cells. I was playing Connect 4 with my 2nd grader yesterday and he was smoking me. The first game we played, halfway through he did a Babe Ruth and called his shot. He announced he was going to beat me in ten more moves and there was no way I could win. I scoffed, continued playing, and lost in ten more moves. The second game we played, he beat me so quickly and soundly, it elicited a “Really, Dad?” from him. I’m getting old. But I digress…)
Back to the Alliance conference. Sure, there are plenty of people who have gone to far more of these than me, but there are also plenty who have gone to far less. So, I thought it might be helpful if I laid out a few tips I’ve picked up over the years as a frequent Alliance conference attendee.
1. Take the time to read the abstracts and develop a plan of attack ahead of time. Let’s face it, this is a big conference with a lot of concurrent sessions. I have tried both the “plan ahead” and the “just wing it” approach to the conference and have found that planning ahead is much better for getting the most out of your time. I usually go through each time slot and circle every session I am interested in. I’ll then highlight the one session that interests me the most and sometimes I’ll even rank the other sessions in order of preference (wow – that’s really kind of geeky). That way, if the first session is a dud, I can quickly move on to an alternative without having to page through and read all the abstracts again.
2. Don’t be afraid to skip around to other sessions, but don’t get carried away. Look, you’re paying for the conference (or more likely, your employer is paying) so if you’re in a session that isn’t living up to expectations, by all means, move on! There’s no point in sitting through a session you’re not getting anything out of, especially when there are so many other options to consider at the same time. Pack up your things and move on to #2 on your list. Or, better yet, move on to a session that has a good buzz going on around it. Hmmm…now how could you be sitting in one session and at the same time hear buzz about another session in an entirely different area? What otherworldly invention could possibly allow you to do such an amazing thing? Surely such an incredible tool would be praised and embraced by all! (OK, it’s Twitter. I’m talking about Twitter. This is my lame attempt to try and encourage more to sign-up for a Twitter account and use it at the conference. Hey…I tried.)
The only note of caution is not to get too carried away with session hopping. My personal feeling is that if you switch out of more than one session in a 1 hour period, you’re not going to get much out of any of those sessions. You have already missed too much of it to make it worthwhile. I try to determine early on if a session is worthwhile and if it’s not, switch. If the second one isn’t any better, I either just ride it out or head into the halls to find someone to chat with.
3. Don’t feel the need to attend a session during every single time slot. It took me a few years to convince myself of this one, but it has made the conference much more enjoyable and productive for me. I always felt this need to always be in session, to always be LEARNING. Someone was paying for me to go to sessions, not to be “wasting time” chatting in the halls. This was silly thinking for two reasons: 1) I would always burnout about midway through the second day; and 2) Some of my most productive time has been spent during those hallway conversations. Once I realized that the informal learning that occurs during the side chat sessions was as valuable – if not more so – as the formal learning during sessions, it made the conference a totally different (and better) experience for me.
4. Stick with the big guns. OK, I expect this one to be a little controversial and realize that not everyone will agree with it, and that’s fine. My first few conferences, I realized I always had a lot of sessions I would really look forward to but then end up being disappointed in. It happened a lot. After a while, I started to notice a trend: frequently, these highly anticipated, ultimately disappointing sessions were given by people I had never heard of or heard speak before. The few that lived up to their billing were given by people I knew or knew were accomplished presenters. I soon started to shy away from going to the “unknown presenter” sessions and sticking with the people I knew. I also normally go to the sessions given by the ACCME and/or AMA. Given that my role in CME has always dealt along the lines of accreditation, these sessions almost always had something of value for me to take home. So by cutting down on sessions with unknowns and going mainly with known names and regulatory organizations, I felt like my time in sessions was much more productive and I had a lot less session hopping.
I feel a little bad about that one because it sounds like I’m not giving others a chance. It’s not that I never go to sessions by people I don’t know – I do and some have been quite good – I just don’t go to a lot of them. I’m curious if others have had this same experience or if you think I’m way off base here.
5. Outcomes Pecha Kucha!!! OK, this one’s only in my dreams (nightmares?), but, c’mon: if you had to choose between a round of Outcomes Pecha Kucha and another evening at Downtown Disney, which are you going to choose, huh? Oh, really? Yes, Legoland is pretty cool. What if I added in the Moore’s Levels of Outcomes Drinking Game (copyright pending), too? Still no, huh? Ah, well…
See you at the conference!