A conference in the field of Integrative and Functional Medicine can be a valuable experience in more ways than one. Of course you’ll walk away with incredible education that will transform your patients’ health, and your own. But you can get even more than medical education.
Attending large gatherings with like-minded individuals with shared goals results in forming new relationships, not feeling isolated, and opportunities to exchange key leanings. You have an opportunity to pick the brains from experts in the field and possibly even find a mentor or collaborator.
Here are 4 Tips to optimize the Integrative and Functional Medicine conference experience and get the most from your investment.
Make a Plan
Conferences can be overwhelming, so setting up your conference game plan before will help to maximize the experience, and gain as much knowledge as possible. You’re making an investment in your career, so formulating a plan will help you get the most out of that investment. It really can be helpful to review, reflect and strategize in advance.
Prior to the conference you should review the schedule, break out sessions, and read the speakers’ Bios. Look closely at the agenda beforehand and start thinking about how you will take this information back to your practice.
Be determined to take away at least one concept, tool, resource or piece of information from each session that can be applied to your practice. Documenting key takeaways from each session can help you retain and easily refer to this information later.
Decide how you will document the key information. Do you prefer writing or typing on a keyboard? Evernote is an app that has been valuable for organizing my life. It’s great for taking notes at a conference and it’s useful for organizing all the information I gather regularly.
I also keep a notebook with me at all times at conferences. Sometimes I prefer handwriting because it helps me to process and retain information better. I have a system of what goes in Evernote, and what goes in my notebook. Whatever goes in my notebook typically ends up in Evernote, my contacts, or my CMS when I get home. It may sound like double duty, but it works for me.
Whatever your preference, writing or typing, just make sure you have that system in place before you go. When you’re in the midst of the conference hustle, it can get overwhelming. You’re moving quickly from session to session, from sun up to sun down. Instead of getting overwhelmed, develop the best method of information taking for you.
You should also think of a system for keeping the names of people you’ve connected with, or promised to follow-up with after the conference. It can be as simple as adding them into your contacts on your phone as you’re wrapping up a conversation. Can you connect with them on social media or LinkedIn? If you promised a follow-up after the conference, put that reminder on your calendar the minute you make the promise.
Once you’ve arrived, you should familiarize yourself with the conference space and/or your hotel. The next few days will be a whirlwind, so stick to your game plan and get to know your surroundings.
Try to register early so you can minimize your time standing in line. This will give you more time to orient yourself with the hotel and conference space. I scope out the hotel soon after I arrive and if you’re at a large conference venue you should grab the map and orient yourself to that space. I don’t want to make the mistake of being late to a session because I couldn’t find it.
I also identify coffee shops, healthy restaurants, and a good area for a morning run. Being in this field you already know how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and it’s important to have a plan in place so you can maintain your healthy lifestyle while traveling so you can optimize your learning.
Decide on How to Network
Meeting people can be one of the best experiences at the conference.
I’ve made many meaningful connections from the conferences I’ve attended. But in order to make those connections, I had to take the initiative to introduce myself, start a conversation at the table, and utilize the conference app or social media. If you’re an introvert, think of ways to get out of your comfort zone and reach out to people.
Commit to meeting at least three new people to expand your network.
I recently spoke with a Functional Medicine physician who took the initiative to create a Whatsapp group for people he met at conferences. He’s not in an area with many Integrative or Functional Medicine practitioners, so he created his own community. He now has people from all over the world in this group – Dubai, South Africa, Philippines, Brazil, Argentina and the US. This physician said he sits at different tables during a conference and is as social as possible. He remarked on what a great collaboration this group has been and the value that has come from it.
The conference mobile app and social media can also be great ways to connect. You can use the app to identify anyone at the conference who lives in your area. Send them a quick note to say hello and ask to meet up at a break or lunch. You an also join in or initiate conversations on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag for the conference.
Also, I highly recommend attending the scheduled social events. They’re typically a lot of fun and help to build the enthusiasm and energy of a conference. The relaxed atmosphere may encourage you to mingle.
But what if you’re live steaming the conference? Some organizations offer Integrative and Functional Medicine training online. A study by the World Health Organization found that students in the health professions acquire knowledge and skills through eLearning as well as or better than they do through traditional teaching.
If you’re live streaming the conference you can still take advantage of the conference app and social media, and you should make an even stronger effort to do so. I’ve seen remote attendees use the hashtag on social media to show where they were while streaming the conference, and commented on certain topics.
The Institute for Functional Medicine has a Facebook group for these conferences, as well as an active chat in the live stream player where attendees can connect. This chatting can become very active and attendees can download transcripts of the chat if there is any information that is shared that they want to save. Sometimes conversations from the chat move over to the Facebook group. Technology is making it very easy to connect and collaborate!
It’s partly up to you to make a conference great. Prepare beforehand, stay organized, stay connected, and you’ll be glad you made the investment in the conference and your career.