When you first start going to professional meetings, it’s easy to feel a little awkward. If you are a student or resident, you will hopefully be with a faculty who will be able to act as a guide for you. But, if the attending doesn’t make it (or isn’t really helpful) you may find yourself on your own… so I thought some guidance might help.
Go to the meeting.
This might seem a little obvious, but if your department or school is paying for you to attend a meeting, you should attend the meeting. If it’s your own money… you should still attend the meeting. This is part of being a professional. Your peers have put a lot of work into their presentations. Put yourself in their shoes – and stay to hear their talks. Stay engaged during the sessions. Don’t be the person in the back row surfing the web on a smart phone during the entire conference. Listen actively and ask questions. If you ask good questions, people will notice and it will reflect well on you. However, be gracious. Always thank the speaker for what they said, and don’t be antagonistic when you ask your question. That will be noticed, too, and not in a positive way.
Look like a professional.
No matter where you are in your training or practice, you will be making a first impression on people who may play a role in one or more of your future position(s). Start off with a suit and tie (or the equivalent for women) the first day. If you are a woman, make sure you dress as if you are going to an interview – not a party. If everyone else shows up in jeans the first day, move to more casual wear… starting the second day. Don’t dress down too much – even if everyone else is doing it. It’s never wrong to look professional at a professional meeting.
Take advantage of the social events.
Even though it is tempting to sneak off with a couple of our friends and skip the evening reception, don’t do it. The social events are where you meet the important people in the field. If you have time, do a little homework about who is attending the meeting and where they are from – just to be able to start a conversation. Most of the “celebrities” in the field are delighted to talk to people in training, so don’t be intimidated. You’ll also meet peers at your level at these meetings who will become lifelong colleagues and friends. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know! If you are invited to dinner or if there is a formal banquet associated with the meeting, you’ll feel awkward if you don’t know the basic rules (like what to do if there is more than two forks). If you aren’t familiar with formal dinner etiquette, here’s a great site to learn what to do: Dining Etiquette Guide.
Be fiscally responsible.
Just because someone else is paying shouldn’t mean you pick the most expensive restaurant and order the most expensive items. If you come in under budget people will notice. If you turn in receipts over budget, they will really notice. Save all your receipts, and turn them within a few days of returning. It’s always a nice touch to thank the people who paid for you to attend the meeting, either in person or with a note.
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man - Francis Bacon