7 Tips for Planning a Productive Day at Veterinary Conferences

A veterinary conference is a professional investment that can pay off for years to come, thanks to the incredible opportunities to learn new strategies, explore industry trends, network with veterinary leaders, and so much more. Ensure your investment pays off by making smart decisions that maximize the learning and networking opportunities veterinary conferences have to offer.

7 Ways to Maximize the Value of a Veterinary Conference

Here are seven tips for planning a productive and successful day at a conference—without wasting time or burning out.

1. Attend With Intention

Once your travel plans are finalized, set your intentions for attending the veterinary conference. Do you want to make new connections, explore job opportunities, learn about the latest technology, or grow your clinical skills? Narrow your focus to prevent conference overload and ensure a professionally profitable experience.

Once you know your "why," review the program guide and select courses or tracks that align with your goals. Check out the presenters on social media and listen to recorded lectures or webinars to determine if you're interested in their content and like their speaking style.

2. Set a Realistic Schedule

Veterinarians tend to think they can do it all, and that often extends to conference attendance. But, overly ambitious or unrealistic conference plans can leave you feeling frustrated, exhausted, and unable to retain information, including the names or contact information of the precious connections you make.

Map out your schedule, and then remove one or two lectures or events per day. Attending fewer sessions with adequate rest will be more effective than overpacking your day to exhaustion.

3. Optimize Your Networking Abilities

Being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded veterinary professionals should be inspiring and familial, but the sheer number of people in the conference center and exhibit hall can be overwhelming, especially for introverted attendees.

Fortunately, you can network effectively, even if handshakes and how-are-you-doings aren't your style. Strategic socializing can lead to powerful connections—sometimes before the conference begins.

  • Know before you go: Make a list of the presenters, organizers, or exhibitors you want to speak with and why. If possible, start the conversation online, so you can establish a solid foundation before meeting them face-to-face.

  • Identify fellow attendees: Use the conference hashtag on social media to connect with other attendees before the event. Some conferences include a list of attendees with contact information online or on the conference app. Once you're at the conference, post a few photos with the hashtag to enhance your visibility and engagement.

  • Cue the elevator music: Elevator pitches aren't only for job seekers and salespeople. Rehearse your self-introduction to ensure you don't stumble through that all-important first impression.

  • Get off your phone and get out there: Avoid "phubbing" (i.e., using your smartphone to avoid social interactions). This bad habit may save you from an awkward moment, but it will prevent you from making potentially powerful professional connections. Set your away message and pay attention to who is in front of you—not what's on your screen.

4. Pace Yourself

Conferences are marathons, not sprints. Don't pressure yourself to fill every time block with lectures or personal conversations with exhibitors and presenters. The countless session options, fun social events, and carnival-like atmosphere of the exhibit hall may beckon, but don't let the fear of missing out push you to take a bigger bite than you can digest.

Also, remember to protect your well-being and make sure you're eating healthy, hydrating, and sleeping enough to stay focused, energized, and equipped to retain and digest the information you're learning. Don't feel guilty for stepping outside the conference to get a massage, hang by the pool, go to the gym, or visit a local attraction. In fact, inspiration often comes when you step outside the box.

5. Take Notes You'll Actually Use

Efficiently taking notes that you'll understand days, weeks, or months after the veterinary conference isn't always easy, especially if scribbled on a notepad or whatever conference material you can find. You might apply a specific method, like the Cornell Note Taking System, or look to note-taking apps to record major concepts, keywords, questions, prompts, and summaries in a consistent, templated, and organized way. Some note-taking apps allow you to drop pictures of slides directly into the document for easy reference. It's also good practice to review your notes during breaks and add any lingering thoughts, questions, or summaries while the information is still fresh.

6. Show Yourself Some Grace

While you should always start the day with a clear goal, allow yourself to embrace the fact that things may not go according to plan—and that's OK. This prevents unnecessary stress or frustration that can color your conference experience and gives you the freedom to follow an unexpected lead, stick around for a particularly engaging Q&A, meet your veterinary hero, or explore a newfound interest.

If you miss a lecture or find that you regret your session choice and wonder what you may have missed, check the conference notes, ask around for someone who attended, or sign up for a virtual pass and watch a recorded version.

7. Look for Opportunity Everywhere

Sometimes making a plan to network can feel artificial or forced. If you're struggling to connect with your peers, remember that the best opportunities are often unplanned, and you've already got a lot in common with each attendee. Stay open to your surroundings, and you'll find countless moments throughout the day for interaction—waiting for an elevator, hanging out in the lounges, standing at the rideshare point, and so many others. In all cases, keep your business cards handy.

Taming the Whirlwind

Veterinary conferences are a whirlwind of opportunity and information, but they're over before you know it. Taking a strategic—but flexible—approach each day can ensure you enjoy the conference's benefits long after you return home.

Angela Beal

Angela Beal is a veterinarian in Columbus, Ohio who loves using her writing to help veterinarians live more fulfilling lives by helping make practice life more efficient and less stressful. Angela has a background in private practice and academia, and since 2020, she has worked full-time with Rumpus Writing and Editing, a veterinary-specific writing and editing company. Rumpus’ clients include veterinary practices and industry partners, including marketing companies, national corporations, consultants, and several international businesses. Learn more at rumpuswriting.com. The views and opinions in this piece are the authors own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Vetiverse or IDEXX.

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