Have you heard the question about how to eat an elephant? The answer is ….one bite at a time! Whilst this saying presents a farfetched notion of eating an elephant, as a metaphor it can translate really well to how delegates, particularly first timers, may feel when they attend the College’s Annual Conference. There’s so much going on and such a variety of learning opportunities available that it can seem overwhelming; and if you don’t pace yourself, you can feel as if your brain is almost exploding with the introduction of new ideas. The conference programme has ten different sessions running at the same time. The sessions may be abstract based; a keynote address by an invited speaker; an exhibitor workshop; or a college hosted session focussing on key issues facing the occupational therapy profession. At this year’s conference there are also two specific programmes of sessions: a Specialist Section-Work annual conference and a social care stream. In addition delegates can visit the trade exhibition and view over 100 posters that are on display.
However, like most things in life, having a successful conference experience is all in the preparation. Planning your time before you attend can make you feel that you are in control and enable you to get the most from conference. Ask yourself what you want to gain most from attending conference, perhaps refer to your performance appraisal as your objectives may help to identify which sessions are most appropriate, also think about the issues your organisation is facing. You will find that the conference programme has themes identified and learning outcomes for each session. Use these to inform your session choices.
If you are going to conference with a colleague, then you have the opportunity to pool your learning and experiences. Go to different sessions and then meet and share what you have gained from the sessions.
There are a number of different session formats, so make sure you are aware of how the session will be delivered. If the session is interactive, such as a workshop or a seminar, be prepared with issues you may want raise or questions that can be discussed and addressed in an open forum. Please remember some of formats have a maximum number of delegates who can attend. If you wish to attend these sessions make sure you pre-register, and do this early to avoid disappointment.
The exhibition is a really useful source of product and service information, where you can speak directly to suppliers about what is available to help your service users.
Don’t limit your conference experience to sessions, there are excellent opportunities to increase your professional networks, so speak to other delegates and if you know there is a delegate you have always wanted to meet, book an appointment using the conference app.
The conference app is a perfect tool to help you get the most of your time at conference. You can create your personal conference timetable, email other delegates and arrange to meet them, instantly access social media messages including Facebook and Twitter. You will also be kept informed about any last minute changes to the programme whilst you are onsite. This year’s app will be available to download from 15 June 2015. Visit the conference website for more information: http://cotannualconference.org.uk/2014-conference-app.
Social media can truly enhance your time at conference, so when you tweet use the hashtag #COT2015, so others can follow your conversation; and visit the events page of the BAOT/COT Facebook http://www.facebook.com/baotcot. Recording your lightbulb moments on social media will help you with gathering CPD evidence for your portfolio.
There are lots of people who will help you get the most of your conference time and will talk through elements of the programme if you need further clarification. So if you do need further information approach College staff, members of the conference organising committee (CPC); Council members, conference steward and the conference organisers. (You will recognise them as their role will be printed on their badge). They will be delighted to help you.
Hopefully this blog will have given you a brief introduction to getting the most from conference. Book-mark the conference website and regularly visit it for the latest information. I look forward to seeing you at conference in June and feel sure you will have a wonderful time with many lasting memories to inform your future practice.
Vandita Chisholm, College of Occupational Therapists.