After the conference
Making the Most of Your APHA Conference Experience
By Laura Larsson, HAS Newsletter Editor, and Colleagues+
At the Conference
Registration desk. The registration packet and accompanying bag contain your name badge and the final program of sessions (but not the book of abstracts) and can be picked up at the registration desk. Registration times are posted on the APHA Web site. Keep your eyes open for the daily newsletter with news about scheduled events and changes to the conference schedule. You will find copies of the newsletter spread out near the registration desk.
Newcomers. If this is your first APHA meeting, it’s very helpful to attend the “Welcome for Newcomers” session. This session is intended to help newcomers get oriented to the conference and is a good ice-breaker. APHA is huge and can be overwhelming to those who haven’t experienced such a large conference before. If you choose, you can also find other newcomers to talk to if you do not know anyone else at the conference.
Business items. Save receipts for any reimbursable expenses. These typically include airfare, hotel, taxi/shuttle, local transportation.
Food and Drink
Try out new restaurants and new foods. Try at least one food item that you've never tried before. There is always one dish in each city that is considered home-grown and being in that city gives you the chance to try it. Conferences help you grow in more ways than one.
Drink plenty of water. Conference centers tend to be very dry and those who spend much time in those centers can get dehydrated. Often dehydration sneaks up on you so be sure to drink a lot.
Avoid alcohol. Alcohol will dehydrate you and will interrupt REM sleep leaving you tired the next day. If you do indulge, drink water to re-hydrate.
Restrooms. Determine where the restrooms are ahead of time, just in case you need them.
Strangers and lunch. Go to lunch alone and share a table with a previously unknown conference attendee. You can generally identify other conference attendees by their conference bags. Take the risk of asking if they would mind if you joined them for lunch, or wave them over as they’re being led to their seats by the hostess. You can make long-term professional friends from taking a chance.
Additional articles. Two additional articles dealing with food are available for reading. The article by Piccagli and Chan and the related food article written by Larsson should help keep you fed and hydrated while visiting San Francisco.
Attend Scientific, Keynote and Poster Sessions
Key note and other addresses. Attend opening, plenary, keynote, and closing sessions when possible. Speakers are usually exceptionally good and present information and viewpoints that will make you think. Sometimes they’re downright inspirational.
Oral and poster sessions. Attend poster sessions on topics in your discipline. Having the opportunity to talk to someone who has done interesting projects or research can really stimulate you.
Out-of-area scientific sessions. Attend a talk that has nothing to do with your area of interest. You'll be surprised at the insight and ideas it can spawn.
Continuing Education Institutes. Get to them early to get the seat you want. Ask questions of the instructor. Most instructors are pleased when you share information that illuminates or illustrates points they are making. CEIs are also a great place to meet colleagues.
Take full advantage of the conference milieu. Seek out a speaker to ask for clarification on a confusing point, or challenge them on things your experience disagrees with. Talk with particularly inspiring presenters. Occasionally you can find them hanging around the hotel.
Ask questions. Even if the speaker doesn’t like a tough question, the audience will enjoy both the question and the answer. It’s hard to ask good questions. If you have one, do not be shy about asking it.
Network, Network, Network
Make new friends and renew acquaintances. Start conversations with other participants whom you find interesting, network and pass out your cards to people you'd like to know better. Take the opportunity to ask questions if there's a discussion period, and listen to other people's questions too. If there's a luncheon, sit with strangers rather than people you came with, and start up a conversation about some common conference theme. Go early and stay late for themed discussion groups, and be a devil's advocate at the coffee urn. You can often learn more at a conference from your fellow participants than you do from the scheduled speakers. Everybody is an expert in something, and the limited time existence of a conference creates a rich soup of fellow experts you can engage with at will - take advantage of it!
Mentor. Students and those new to the conference could use some mentoring. Share experiences, suggestions for making the conference less threatening, and ideas for interesting sessions. It’s important for seasoned public health professionals to share their knowledge with those with less experience – and can save the newcomer a lot of stress.
Talk to strangers. When you go into a session, sit next to someone you don't know and introduce yourself. Get there a few minutes early so you can talk for a minute. If you hear someone make an insightful comment or ask an interesting question, track them down and introduce yourself. If you see someone who looks a little lost, take the time to stop and ask if you can help. You may make a new friend.
Talk with famous and soon-to-be famous people. Many times conferences are a very good place to talk with current and future luminaries. Make arrangements to have coffee with someone whose research or project you are interested in or who could provide guidance on areas of interest. Most people are very happy to accommodate these kinds of requests and it is actually easier to get uninterrupted time at a conference than when people are at work.
Business cards. Slip some of your business cards in behind your name tag if there is a plastic holder for it. You have them right at hand to give out and can also collect those from people you meet.
Put relevant information on the backs of business cards. On your cards, write appropriate information such as what you want and the meeting name and date; e.g., APHA 2003. On their cards – what they want and the meeting name and date. Tuck the card into your badge for safe keeping. For those from whom you collect cards because everyone is exchanging cards, be sure to write something about them on the back of the card so that you remember the context and for follow-up purposes. If you exchange business cards electronically, add a note as soon as you possibly can giving context.
Handouts. Keep track of handouts by dating and adding the session/abstract number and/or title to the front of the handout. Check to make sure that you have the author’s email address or phone number for contacting interesting speakers. If you look over the handout and you don’t see contact information, one of your questions to the speaker should be a request for an email address. Take notes on the handout. Ask speakers to post their handouts on the Web, either on their own sites or through Confex.
Conference Evaluations. Provide the conference organizers with quality feedback by filling out the conference evaluation form and turning it in before you leave. If you mention a problem, provide a possible solution.
Getting Up in the Morning
Wake-up calls. Set the alarm AND get a wake-up call to prevent sleeping in. Be sure your watch is set to the correct time. There is nothing worse than being late to a meeting or scientific session because your watch is set to your time zone and not the one you are in.
Visit the room you’ll be presenting in. Scope out the room. Stand at the back, sit down in the audience, and then stand at the podium to get accustomed to the room and its feel. Additional suggestions are available at this site.
Presenting with technology. Try to connect with the session moderator ahead of time to let him/her know that you will be bringing a laptop and LCD projector. This is especially important if you are the only one with the projector. You might be asked to share the equipment with other speakers. Check to make sure your equipment works and that you have an extra copy of your presentation on a separate CD or floppy - just in case you cannot use your laptop for some reason.
Arrive early. On the day of your talk, get to the room at least 15 minutes ahead of time and introduce yourself to the moderator if you haven’t already met. If your moderator doesn’t appear, ask a friend to do the introductions, or volunteer to do the introductions yourself.
Handouts. Plan on making about 35 handouts and pack them in an appropriately-labeled file folder or envelope – and bring them with you. Before starting your presentation, announce that handouts are available at the back of the room. If you use PowerPoint, the last slide on the handout should contain your complete contact information. Including complete contact information is important for those who want to follow up with you on your talk.
Poster session vs scientific sessions. If you have the inclination and do not wish to do a formal presentation, try to present a poster. It’s a fabulous networking opportunity – and with some conferences you usually get a free day’s admittance.
Badge. Be sure to bring your conference badge as you will need it to get into the Exhibit Hall. The guards at the entrance will not make an exception for you, no matter how you beg.
Allocate plenty of time for the exhibits. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the Exhibit Hall, especially at APHA. It's best not to attempt to see all the exhibits in one day. Instead, make several short trips, perhaps running in during the breaks. Use the program guide to select and find exhibitors.
Vendors. Visit them often and early before you get tired. Engage with the exhibitors, find out about their products and services from the real, live person in front of you. If you see something you want more information about, leave your card or have your conference badge scanned. Make a note to yourself so that you’ll remember information is coming and so that you can visit their Website. Be sure to pick up goodies for giving to your staff when you return.
Bring an over-the-shoulder bag. Bring something to put all the goodies you pick up at the exhibits. Bags with long straps that you can put over your shoulder keep both hands free to rummage through the flyers, books or other content found on vendor tables. When it is full, stuff it into a box for mailing home.
Attend vendor luncheons and receptions, and seminars. Vendor seminars are a great way of viewing demos of their latest gadget, application or to get a sense of where technology is going. Luncheons also enable you to meet people with like minds.
Sending conference materials home. Fedex materials back to the office to avoid carrying all those materials (take a charge slip so it can be billed to your office). It’s nice not to have to carry your poster home after presenting it at the conference. Save the poster for use at another meeting - or for posting on the walls in your department so that others can learn about your work.
ExerciseDo your best to find a way to exercise. Try to jog or take brisk walks outdoors in the early mornings before the sessions start. Exercise can give you a time to think about the conference and to release excess energy. It's a fun way to explore new places, too. Many conference hotels have some kind of workout room and may have invested in a pool for guests. (Bring a bathing suit). Such services are generally extra.
Working out. Sometimes it’s nice to work out in your room to relax. Bring your weights with you. Since it’s often not worth the hassle of hand-carrying your luggage aboard the plane, you might think about taking a slightly larger suitcase and pack water for each day and your one-or-five pound weights.
Walking about the City: Tourism
Come a day or two early to sight see. San Francisco is a city rich in history and well worth rummaging around in its museums and historical places.
Try to schedule an off-site visit to a local museum, historical place or garden. If you’ve come unprepared, talk to the hotel concierge about possible sites to visit. It is their goal in life to keep you happy.
Try to have some time alone to re-group. Try not to fill every waking minute with the conference. Go to bed early, don't watch TV so that you can think about your day and relax. Take time to get to know the town/city where it is held - get out and walk around. Read the local paper (not USA Today) and get to know what is special about the place.
Do something different. Another suggestion is to skip the sit down lunches and go to museum exhibits instead. Doing something different clears your brain, plus, you get some cultural stimulation - and you get out of the hotel for awhile. Pick up a sandwich and eat it during the early afternoon sessions.
Keeping Current With Email
APHA Cybercafe. Since last year, APHA provides conference attendees with a Cybercafe where you can go and read email. This facility is available for several hours a day and will be located this year in APHA Public Health Expo in the Moscone Convention Center. Read your email, search the final program and abstracts, and use "ShowMail" to search for and send messages to colleagues registered for the APHA Annual Meeting.
Internet connections in your hotel room. Some hotels provide an in-room Internet connection that you can use with your laptop for approximately $10.00 per day. In other hotels, use their computer business center to keep up with e-mail from the office
Cybercafes and Kinkos. Many large cities provide cybercafes where you can go and drink coffee and leisurely read your email. Kinkos also provides Internet access for about $.60/minute.