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How to Get the Most Out of Conferences

Follow these tips to get a great return-on-investment when you attend a conference.


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Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Veterinary Practice News

Whether you’re getting last-minute continuing education hours this year or choosing next year’s conferences, you need to ensure a good return on investment for the dollars you’ll spend on registration and travel.

Small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, such as veterinary hospitals, spent $1,800 per employee last year on training, according to the American Society for Training and Development’s 2013 State of the Industry Report.1 Employees average 30 hours of training per year.1

In addition to meeting licensing requirements for veterinarians, technicians and certified veterinary practice managers, you want training to grow your practice’s bottom line through skill development and exposure to new business ideas. Here’s how to make the most of your next convention.

Choose Which Lectures You’ll Attend In Advance

Review schedules on conference websites or apps. Read descriptions of sessions on medicine, management, marketing and human resources.

Ask yourself, “Which clinical skills do I need to polish or expand? Which marketing ideas could grow my clinic? What solutions could I find to human-resources challenges? What practice-management innovations could make our team more efficient?”

Once you identify your learning goals, choose sessions that match your needs.

At the Conference, Introduce Yourself to Nearby Attendees

Arrive at lectures 10 minutes early so you can pick a good seat and have time to introduce yourself to neighbors. Ask your colleagues where their practices are located and why they chose to attend this session. You may find a common learning goal and reasons to stay in touch.

Carry Business Cards

Pack 50 business cards and give yours to at least 10 people each day of the conference. You may reunite with a former classmate, meet a potential associate veterinarian, request information from a speaker, or ask exhibitors for details on products or equipment.

Store a dozen business cards in the plastic sleeve or neck wallet that holds your conference badge. If you have business cards within reach, you’ll be more likely to share them. When you receive another attendee’s business card, write a note on the back about follow-up items. Once home, you’ll remember the details of your conversation.

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Dress Professionally

Flip-flops, shorts, T-shirts and jeans are not business attire. Because you’re at a convention for doctors, dress like one!

Business casual attire—slacks and a collared shirt—will provide comfort during hours of sitting and help project a professional image. Whether you’re a practice owner or associate veterinarian, you may meet a new colleague and turn the encounter into an employment opportunity.

If a vendor or new friend invites you to dinner, you’ll already be appropriately dressed. Temperatures in meeting rooms can vary, so bring a sport coat or sweater. Most importantly, wear your smile!

Make Your Name Badge Visible

Most lanyards measure 17 inches, and then add another 4 inches for your name badge. Attendees may be looking at your bellybutton to get your name.

Tie a knot in the nylon cord so your name badge rests on your chest and won’t flip backward when you walk or socialize with colleagues. If the name badge has a clip, fasten it to your right collar so colleagues will make eye contact with your name badge when shaking hands.

Start a To-Do List of Convention Ideas

Bring your iPad, tablet or notepad to create a running list of action items. After multiple days of lectures, one bright idea could get forgotten.

At the end of each day, review your lecture notes and highlight key concepts. On the last day of the conference, prioritize your to-do list—A, B and C. Then you’ll know where to start when you return to your clinic.

Visit the Exhibit Hall

Just as you’ll review the seminar schedule in advance, look at the exhibitor directory. List potential equipment purchases and services you want to explore. The exhibit hall lets you efficiently compare multiple vendors and get price quotes. Ask about show specials for additional savings.

Don’t overlook vendors that currently supply your hospital. Many product launches occur at national conventions before your local sales representative has an opportunity to give you details. Visit booths of the top five companies that supply services and products to your hospital to find out what’s new or to ensure you’re making the most of their current offerings.

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Take a Photo With the Speaker and Post it on Social Media

Few clients are aware that veterinarians, technicians and certified practice managers need to meet CE requirements.

During seminar breaks, ask a colleague to take your photo with the seminar speaker in front of signage with the conference name. Post the photo on your clinic’s Facebook page with a message.

For example, “Dr. Smith attended <Conference Name> in <city, state> this week to earn 20 hours of continuing education credit in medicine and hospital management. Ongoing training helps our doctors and team improve patient care and client experiences. Our state also requires veterinarians to complete <number> of hours of CE credit each year for licensing.” Post similar messages for technicians and certified veterinary practice managers.

Present a Summary During Your Next Staff Meeting

Don’t vomit a volume of ideas on the staff when you return. Too many changes may cause employees to push back. Instead, give an overview of the best concepts that you learned. Discuss how the concepts could be used in your hospital.

Choose the Top Three Goals to Implement From the Conference

Ask your team for input; then you’ll get buy-in rather than rejection. Ask for volunteers to help with implementation.

On an employee bulletin board, post each goal, the action plan for implementation and your progress.

When you go to a veterinary conference with a plan, you’ll get a great return on your training investment, establish new business relationships and make new friends.


1. American Society for Training and Development. State of the Industry 2013. Page 7. Accessed 09-15-14 at www.astd.org/~/media/Files/ASTD%20Forum/191305-2013-State-of-the-Industry-ASTD-Research.pdf.

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