Attending Your First Veterinary Conference: 5 Tips for New Veterinarians
The veterinary conference scene is an incredible opportunity for new veterinarians to learn, network, and further their careers. That said, they can also be quite overwhelming for first-timers. From your first step onto the conference center's patterned carpet, you'll be bombarded with larger-than-life ad campaigns for veterinary products, requests to participate in a survey or game, and giant swag bags filled with free samples and goodies. The sheer volume of sensory input can overload and disorient as much as it excites.
It would be easy to coast through the conference on the energy and enthusiasm alone, but the experience will unlikely be productive. It's best to set aside some time beforehand to make a plan and identify your goals coming out of the event. Here's how.
5 Ways to Prepare for Your First Conference
Here are five tips to ensure that the time at your first conference is well-spent.
1. Make a Game Plan
Your first conference is not something to play by ear. Plan a course of action before you arrive.
Know your needs: Identify the skills or knowledge areas you want to explore or improve.
Choose carefully: Select courses that appeal to you—or your employer, if they're paying for you to attend.
Map your route: Learn the lay of the land—including restroom, coffee, and snack locations—so you can focus on learning instead of navigating the crowds.
Engage with others: Check the attendee and presenter lists for potential networking opportunities. Join the conference online community using the conference's social media handle.
2. Pack Smart
Unwritten conference rules dictate that you'll bring home an excessive amount of swag, so be sure to leave room in your suitcase. Smart packing decisions also ensure you'll stay comfortable, energized, and prepared. Conference must-haves include the following:
Layered clothing: Conference centers are often chilly—and the more you sit, the colder you'll get. Be sure to pack multiple layers so you can remain comfortable whatever the temperature.
Backpack: Shoulder bags can get heavy and strain your neck or back. Select a comfortable bag that you won't mind carrying for lengthy periods of time.
Power strip: Sharing (a power outlet) with other attendees is caring. It can also win instantaneous friends.
Healthy snacks: Conference fare can be carb-heavy, so keep nuts, protein bars, and fresh fruit in your bag to avoid an afternoon slump.
Water bottle: Staying hydrated will help keep you alert and focused, no matter the topic you're learning. It can also cool you down when feeling overheated.
Note-taking apps: Ensure your notes are succinct, legible, and organized with a note-taking app, such as Evernote, OneNote, or Simplenote. Some apps allow you to drop images of pertinent presentation slides, media material, and business cards straight into the document.
Comfortable shoes: Function trumps fashion when it comes to conference footwear. Select supportive shoes on day one to ensure you can walk comfortably on day two.
3. Promote Yourself
Whether you're actively seeking a job or already working at your practice, veterinary conferences offer an unbeatable opportunity to connect professionally. Ensure you make a strong first impression that will stay with your colleagues, potential mentors, future employers, and industry professionals after the conference is over.
Embrace your newbie status: Don't hesitate to introduce yourself as a recent graduate and demonstrate your eagerness and excitement. Plus, a new veterinarian often receives special conference perks, extra freebies, and even job opportunities—so own your status and present yourself with confidence.
Pack your business cards: Consider having personal business cards made that include standard contact information and URLs for your LinkedIn profile, so potential employers can easily view your résumé. You might even include a QR code printed on the card that links to it directly. Whatever you choose, keep the design classy and professional.
Ask questions: Whether you're participating in a traditional Q&A, walking the exhibit hall floor, or waiting for an elevator, ask questions to spark conversation, build relationships, and express interest in the matter or person at hand. Genuine curiosity builds more professional connections than feigned expertise or talking only about yourself.
4. Find the Balance
Conferences can be a grind, especially for new veterinarians. If you're attending a multi-day event, taking regular breaks and getting away from the ballrooms and booths can be vital. Many large conferences offer yoga and fitness classes, live entertainment, off-site sightseeing, and after-hours social events, so consider checking out those options. That said, if you don't have the bandwidth for group activities, don't feel guilty for calling it a day. Head back, order room service, and get some much-needed rest.
5. Think Back, Follow Up, and Move Forward
After the conference, you may float home full of inspiring goals, or feel weighed down by the work that lies ahead to realize them. Both scenarios can limit your progress—by starting everything at once, or by not knowing where to start.
Let the post-conference dust settle, find homes for all those new pens, and start planning again. Meet with your employer or colleagues and present your conference highlights and any takeaways that might contribute to the practice, be it better time management techniques or strategies for navigating difficult client conversations. If applicable, invite your colleagues to help you set achievable goals based on what you learned, limiting your goals to three or fewer to increase your chances of success.
If you're looking for a job, follow up with any potential leads and express gratitude for their time and attention. Send thank-you cards to those on your shortlist.
Shape Your Veterinary Career
Your first veterinary conference should be an altogether unforgettable and inspiring professional experience—no matter how exhilarating or overwhelming it may feel. The way to enhance the benefits and minimize the challenges lies in thoughtful planning. A clear plan of action can help you identify what you need to know and connect with the people who may shape your career and practice for years to come.