Thursday, January 14, 2016

Almost 30 Tips for Attending the 2016 HIMSS Conference (Or Any Conference)

Sometimes the comments on a blog post have information that is just as good – or even better – than the post itself. This blog post titled “12 Ways to Get the Most Out of Attending a Conference” is a perfect example of where reader comments were every bit as insightful as the post itself. I’ve pulled out ideas and tips for attending conferences from that post and am sharing them here for your conference-going pleasure. Thanks to all the commenters who supplied these ideas.

Pre-planning & Travel

1. Consider investing in a nice looking backpack or messenger bag. You’ll need it for chargers, snacks, water bottles, jackets, etc. And all those conference materials and vendor handouts.

2. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in comfortable, nice-looking clothes!!

In the words of Thurstson Howell III’s wife Lovey, one never knows whom one might meet. And you never know what could come from that meeting.

3. Plan ahead for quick trips to charge your phone/device charge and get a snack.

4. And don’t forget the freebies. Only pack your bag half fill with clothes to make room for them. And be choosy about what you take. If there’ something really good, take as many as they’ll let you get away with.

5. Don’t be fooled by maps. Get clear directions to where you are going. Orlando isn’t Vegas but it’s not Mayberry either.

6. Bring a sweater or jacket to every session. So many of those big conference rooms are FREEZING. Recommend layers. You can take one off and put it in that backpack or messenger bag mentioned above.

7. Maximize your conference: pick up new skills, learn about trends in your field, and make networking contacts

8. Set aside a “vendor block”. HIMSS conference have LOTS ofvendors which means lots to discover as well as specific vendors you'll want to see. Pick a 2+ hour block out of your schedule to do nothing but walk the vendor hall. And make sure you have some downtime after that block too. This is easier than trying to sneak in vendor visits between sessions.

Conference Sessions

1. Go to a session that has a subject you know little or nothing about; you just might learn something and find a new passion.

2. Pick out alternative sessions to attend if your first one does not work out, and your route to get there quickly. Sometimes the room is full. Sometimes presenters don’t show. Sometimes the session just plain sucks and is nothing like the description.

3. Don’t be afraid to leave a bad session. If it is clear that a session is not what you thought it would be, leave. Go to one of your second choice sessions and do not spend 30-60 minutes sitting in an unproductive session.

4. When you are in an awesome session, tweet about it. People stuck in bad sessions will see your tweet and can move to your room to see a great speaker they would have otherwise missed.

5. Don’t tweet about how bad a session is; but if the speaker doesn’t show or something similarly disastrous happens, alert others to that so they do not waste their time walking down there.

6. Consider occasionally splitting your sessions. If the first speaker of one session is interesting, and the third speaker of another, get up and go to the other session. Make sure you sit at the back of the room so you can leave unobtrusively between sessions. Do not do this all the time, because you want to end the session in a room with people you want to talk with.

Networking at Conferences
1. Talk to the celebrities of your profession. Those hot shot people who do keynotes, lightning talks, etc? They are normal people too. And most of them are very excited about what they do and want to share with others, so they can give you some great conference advice.

2. Be nice and introduce them to other folks you know.

3. Don’t be afraid to approach strangers.

4. Look for semi-professional social gatherings like user group meetings, meetups, sub-discipline meetings, etc. There are many unofficial and official tweetups in various public areas and restaurants near the conference and they're a good way to force yourself out of room service and into meeting more people

5. Make time to socialize outside your pack. If there’s a luncheon, let them know you are going to sit with others to spread your wonderfulness.

6. Want an easy excuse to talk to industry celebrities? Do a photo safari. Set a goal to collect as many pictures as you can of yourself with those industry celebrities. Feel free to even tell them that you are doing a photo safari, it makes a good ice-breaker. It will also help you plan out how to meet these people.

Using Twitter at a Conference Session
1. Use Twitter socially. You can find out about networking opportunities and where people are going for dinner or early evening drinks. This is especially a great tool for the introverted, as you can gather good information and focus your social time to be as effective as possible before you start to tire out.

2. Tweet. If you don’t use twitter, start learning, because a conference is one of the most useful professional situations for twitter.

3. Follow the conference back channel on Twitter where you can found out about neat things on and off the agenda. Sometimes there is a Tweet Up before the conference, a gathering where people can put faces to handles for conference twitter users.

1. Don’t make non-work plans for the evenings.

2. A late night in the bar will trash you for the whole of the following day.

3. Think twice about going to the hotel bar after 9pm to talk further with conference people. This is generally when the hooking-up-at-conferences stuff starts getting kicked off

4. Don’t use a professional event as your opportunity for social justice warrioring or politicking or proselytizing.

Ending Each Day
1. End each working day by reviewing your notes, the panels you attended, the people you talked to, etc and jotting down action items or ideas to bring back to the office.

2. Doing so at the end of the day nets better results than doing it at the end of the conference. Once you’re back in the office, it’s too late — the pressing matters of the delayed work waiting for you will be overwhelming.

For more information on the HIMSS conference and healthcare information technology, consider following @HITConfGuy and/or @ShimCode.

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