How to make the most of conferences

3 min read
chairs arranged for conference
First Published: 
Oct 2023

Key Learnings contained in this article:

Attending national or international scientific conferences is an integral part of research work, offering a platform to stay abreast of the latest developments in your area of study and to establish beneficial networks with like-minded professionals. However, given the budgetary constraints often faced, it requires strategic planning to select which conferences to attend and how to make the most of them. This article provides practical guidance on these two aspects.

The first and most critical factor to consider when deciding to attend a conference lies in its content. Carefully review the list of topics included in the scientific sessions and keynote addresses, as well as the credibility of the speakers and their affiliations. Are they recognised figures? Are they associated with reputable institutions or organisations?

Aside from plenary sessions, consider the value proposition of pre-conference workshops. These offer concentrated learning opportunities and could be highly beneficial, enhancing the value of attending the conference. Additionally, verify if the conference materials such as meeting abstracts, presentation slides, or posters will be available post-event. This enriched material can be pivotal for reference and further research.

Some relevant aspects to evaluate include:

  • Scheduling conflicts: Ensure that your desired sessions don't overlap, making it impossible to attend all of your sessions of interest.
  • Accessibility: Favour conferences held in hub cities, which are more accessible and offer better connectivity.
  • Public transport: Check if the venue is easily reachable by public transport or walking distance.
  • Networking opportunities: Look for events with ample room for such pursuits, which may even include meeting some speakers.
  • Career opportunities: For those seeking jobs, a conference offering job fairs can be advantageous.
  • Funding: Explore if travel grants are available and whether you qualify for such aid.

In an ideal scenario, there would be a formal "meetings critic" who attends and reviews conferences, akin to readers reviewing books on But in the absence of this, it's vital for attendees to carefully examine how to spend their limited funds.

To maximise the benefit derived from conference attendance, pre-planning is crucial. Here are some key strategies:

  • Identify and list five key learning goals you hope to achieve through the conference. Based on these, select pertinent sessions to attend or trade booths to visit.
  • Prepare a list of people (attendees, speakers, media, exhibitors) you would like to connect with and generate pertinent questions for them in advance.
  • Carry enough business cards to facilitate networking.
  • Aim to meet the objective you stipulated on your list. From every session or speech, endeavour to capture at least one to three key ideas.
  • Engage with as many new people as possible. Remember to exchange business cards and jot down notes on the topics discussed as a reminder for follow-up actions.
  • After the conference, consolidate your new learnings into a one-page synopsis to share with coworkers.
  • Follow up promptly on any commitments you made during the conference.

Lastly, put into practice at least one new idea gleaned at the conference in your workspace. This practical implementation will ensure that the benefits of attending the conference extend beyond just knowledge gain and into real-life application. Thus, conference attendance becomes not just a learning journey but also an avenue for improved professional practices.

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Ruth Whittington
CEO of Rx Values Group Ltd
MSc(hons), NZSRN
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