If your ideal day is spent in the presence of other like-minded professionals, attending a conference, whether it is a broad-scope nursing conference like that of the American Nurses Association or a conference geared specifically toward minority nurses like those of the National Black Nurses Association or the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association, a conference is bound to recharge your batteries.

In a high-speed profession like nursing, a conference keeps you up-to-date professionally by introducing the latest concepts and niche ideas. But even more valuable are the contacts nursing conferences provide. You can meet specialists who lead the field in your specific interests and you can meet (and compare notes with!) other nurses from around the country.

But if you don’t put in some effort, you won’t get nearly your money’s worth. Whether it is a day-long or a week-long conference, you want to walk away feeling inspired by people you met and empowered by new information. Your goals should include both professional and personal gains.

What can you do to squeeze every last bit of information from the agenda or to make new contacts?

The best planning starts long before you arrive at the first meet and greet. Read all the information you can, know the presenters, choose the programs you consider essential, and identify at least five (yes, five – at a minimum) people you want to meet and compose a few on-target questions for each of them.

When you arrive, be prepared. Have paper and pen in hand, business cards at the ready, a short elevator pitch that describes who you are and what you do, and a mental list of some great questions to get through that small talk stage (“What do you hope to get from this conference?” is always a good conversation starter!). And no matter how much or how little experience you have, remember you have something to offer at the conference. Be an active participant and think of how you want people to remember you. How can you make yourself memorable?

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When you leave the conference, follow up with the five people you really wanted to meet and did. Make notes right after your introduction that include one or two points you can use to later begin a conversation with them. When you send a follow-up email, you can remind them how much you enjoyed your conversation and refer to what you discussed. Suggest meeting for lunch when they are in town (you can even suggest getting a group together to talk about their specialty if meeting alone makes you uncomfortable) or you can just say you are looking forward to seeing them again at the next conference.

When you feel you have achieved your set goals for every conference, you know your preparation was worth every second.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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