One way of extending knowledge and enhancing skills is through attending and participating in professional conferences (1).
Learning never exhausts the mind (Leonardo da Vinci) and conferences enable participants to learn new things, remember old ones or just see things in a different way.
Conferences, through thought provoking plenaries, concurrent papers, posters and simply bringing people together, enable you to be still learning (Michelangelo).
What could you learn from others (and them from you) by presenting your work or by listening to others?
Top tip: Read through the conference programme in advance and plan who you want to hear or see.
One of the strengths of conferences is the ability to network with a wide range of people who you may only know by name. A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).
Attending professional conferences can provide tremendous professional networking opportunities (2). Conferences enable you to develop face to face relationships with people you may only know by name, reputation or email: I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions (Lou Holtz).
Conferences mix people up – you don’t know who you may be sitting next to and how you might be able to ask questions or work together in the future. Conferences are sometimes the only time people from across the country with shared interests are actually in the same building – don’t miss that opportunity.
Top tip: Consider playing ‘conference bingo’ where you and others discuss and agree particular names you want to meet during the conference – from palliative and hospice care celebrities to those you are just interested in. Draw out your bingo grid with their names on and off you go!
A conference is the opportunity to share your bright idea, work in progress or completed project. This has multiple benefits from learning and networking with others to being able to prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable (George S. Patton).
By sharing your ideas and work you provide not only a platform to showcase your work but also your organisation, team and yourself.
As a species, us humans are adept at communication and sharing is one fundamental way that we do this. Moreover, recent developments in the use of Twitter at conferences has shown it to be an important tool for communicating and exchanging thoughts, resources and continuative links (3). Twitter can move audiences from the more passive descriptive ‘what are you doing?’ to the proactive and interactive exchange of ‘what is happening?’ (4).
Top Tip: Have a strategy of how you are going to share your work, team or organisation. Make sure you have business cards or similar with you and include contact details on your poster or presentation – these could include Twitter handles, QR codes or similar.
The 19th century English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist and sociologist Herbert Spencer is quoted as saying: the great aim of education is not knowledge but action.
Conferences are a way to turn knowledge into action – not only through presenting your work but by the ideas and knowledge that you bring back to your team and organisation.
The London School of Economics and Political Science produces regular commentaries and blogs about how to disseminate the impact of research, both within and outside the academic community. For me this raises the point of how important it is to contribute to the body of knowledge – from how or why work has been done, to results and implications for care, evidence and further research.
Top Tip: Think about how your work contributes to care, policy or strategy? Is it about the way you did it or the partnerships you formed? Did you find a new or different way to do something or did you find out new knowledge or skills?
Finally, one of the most important skills from attending a conference is to turn your learning, networking, sharing and contribution into meaningful action. Do not forget to think and reflect on the conference and bring this back to your place of work. You could turn this into shared learning, action plans or new ways of thinking.
As the poet and author Rudyard Kipling said in the Just So Stories:
I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.
Make sure you take back to your own organisation and share the what, where, when, how, why and who so that others can learn and we can all contribute to patient and family care.
- Davis J. Benefits of conferences. Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal. 2015; 23(3):18.
- Mata H, Latham TP, Ransome Y. Benefits of professional organization membership and participation in national conferences: Considerations for students and new professionals. Health promotion practice. 2010; 11(4):450-453.
- Reinhardt W, Ebner M, Beham G, Costa C. How people are using Twitter during conferences. Creativity and innovation competencies on the web. Proceedings of the 5th EduMedia. 2009:145-156.
- Ebner M, Mühlburger H, Schaffert S, Schiefner M, Reinhardt W, Wheeler S. Getting granular on twitter: tweets from a conference and their limited usefulness for non-participants. Key Competencies in the Knowledge Society. Springer Berlin Heidelberg; 2010.