10 ways to maximize your time at a veterinary conference
by S&A Staff
One year when our team was in Orlando for VMX (Veterinary Meeting and Expo), a brand-new-to-the-industry colleague asked us what he shouldn’t miss while attending his first-ever veterinary conference. What a great question! It made us think: What is the best way to spend your time when you’re surrounded by so many great options?
We put our heads together—collectively the Stephens & Associates team has spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours at veterinary events—and came up with this road map to a successful conference experience.
Whether you’re a grizzled animal health road warrior or a fresh-faced industry newbie, take these ideas for a spin during VMX, WVC Annual Conference, or whatever your next conference happens to be.
BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
Master your story.
You will be asked many times who you are, what you do and why you’re at the conference. The ideal time to figure out your response is not the moment you’re asked. Nail down your proverbial elevator speech before you even set foot on the show floor, and the rest of your conversations will flow much more effortlessly.
Review the list of exhibitors.
Chances are you’re headed to the conference to do business and learn stuff, so gather your pre-conference materials and make a plan to do just that. Scour the exhibitor list to identify potential contacts, then reach out to set up meetings. Consider breakfast, coffee, lunch, drinks, dinner, a booth visit, a table in the exhibit hall—all have their advantages.
Not only is it easier to plan your attack without the distracting buzz of the conference surrounding you, but setting several meetings in advance provides a nice solid framework for your schedule. Leaving things too open-ended can invite option paralysis when you’re immersed in the aforementioned buzz and bustle.
You long-time conference-goers already know this, but the 15-minute walk from your hotel room to the convention center, which you may undertake several times a day at a brisk pace, will do things to your dress-shoe-clad feet you never knew were possible. Shoes that are comfortable walking around your office may produce a quarter-size blister at a conference, and the last thing you’ll want to do is wear them the next day. So bring not one pair of sensible shoes but several. Also, don’t forget to toss some business cards in your bag—the animal health industry still relies on these old-school tools for networking and follow-up.
AT THE CONFERENCE
Sit in sessions.
If you represent a product or service that targets the veterinary community, there’s almost guaranteed to be a batch of educational sessions on the program that are highly relevant to your niche. Scope them out and sit through a few. Most conferences welcome industry representatives in lecture rooms as long as you aren’t depriving a veterinarian or other educational attendee of a seat. If you do notice a crowded room, take note—that’s a potential sign of keen interest on the part of your clients and customers.
Stay for the Q&A.
When you sit in on a session, don’t slip out once the speaker wraps up the formal lecture. There are usually a few minutes of Q&A built into the time slot, and this is where you can glean what veterinarians really care about regarding the topic at hand. Their questions often reflect both challenges and innovations, which can spark ideas for your own brand.
Grab lunch in the exhibit hall.
Some of our most interesting conversations at veterinary conferences have happened while we were grabbing a sandwich at the expo hall food court between meetings, lectures or booth shifts. Take a seat at one of those large round tables, preferably one occupied by a few other attendees, and test the conversational waters. These veterinarians, technicians, practice managers and so on are your rank-and-file customers. Talk to them. Be curious. Ask questions. You might be amazed what you learn.
How do you network effectively at a conference? What does that word even mean, anyway? Simply put, networking is talking to people you don’t know but with whom you share overlapping professional goals. This basically applies to everyone at a veterinary conference. So don’t hesitate to go up to someone, introduce yourself and start asking questions—everyone does it, and no one will think you’re weird.
Bonus tip: If you’ve attended an educational session or two like we advise above, this can give you something interesting to talk about during your “networking” conversations.
Engage with everything.
If you see something that piques your interest, don’t just walk past. Scan the QR code. Talk to the booth rep. Google the product name. You’re here to learn, so immerse yourself in the experience. Think about your own brand in the space and where it might fit differently than it does now. Conferences are great for inspiration—ideas, energy and creativity tend to flow more freely than when we’re in our regular daily routine. Don’t miss out on the moment.
Fight conference brain.
Inevitably, after a day or two of high-octane conversations, interesting sessions, entertaining events and strategic-level thinking, a mental fog starts to descend. This combination of fatigue, information overload and sensory overstimulation produces a glassy-eyed condition some of us call “conference brain.”
To fight it, carve out a few quiet moments away from the hustle and bustle to accomplish a task, write out some notes or otherwise capture the experience. If you can get a few things out of your head and into a document or a checkbox on your to-do list, this provides a boost of clarity and helps you refocus your energies for what’s next.
Too often we arrive back in our offices bursting with ideas and inspiration from a conference, only to face an onslaught of emails and tasks that have piled up in our absence. While it’s tempting to jump right in and start putting out fires, take a breath. Carve out some time in your schedule in the weeks immediately after your return to do follow-up: connect with new contacts on LinkedIn, send that email you promised, make a proposal for that potential new client.
The longer you wait to do these things, the less likely it is that you’ll actually do them—and the more likely you are to forget about them altogether. Make it a priority to capitalize on the potential of this specific moment in time. Who knows? Your efforts could lead to a transformation that catapults your company into a new stratosphere of success in the amazing animal health industry so many of us call home.