The conference season

CSP conferences and other national events offer physios unrivalled learning and networking opportunities.

Professional adviser for CPD Gwyn Owen explains why Conferences can be rich learning spaces.

They offer opportunities to explore the latest practice developments with people who have similar interests. The structure and format provides variety and choice. But despite this richness, the potential conferences that offer for continuing professional development (CPD) can easily be overlooked.

This article encourages you to think critically about how your CPD can be enhanced through attending a conference (or, indeed, any formal learning event). Later, it invites you to make the case for ‘Sam’ – a hypothetical CSP member – to have time away from the workplace to attend Physiotherapy UK 2012.

This event, which replaces what was formerly known as Congress, is being held in Liverpool from 12 to 13 October

What is a conference?

Traditionally, conferences allowed researchers to present and test the findings emerging from their research with peers.

Outside the research environment, a conference brings a large number of people together to air matters of common interest.

A peek into the archives reveals that the CSP has held conferences since its inception. Members come together to hear about innovation and changes in policy and practice, and to discuss matters of importance to the development of the profession.  

As physiotherapy’s capacity to create its own evidence-base has evolved, the format of CSP conferences has changed.

It is no longer a single stream of presentations on how physios can manage a particular condition, for example, but has taken on the research conference structure, in which presentations are grouped into themes.

CSP conferences now provide an exciting mix of topic-specific parallel sessions interspersed with plenary sessions and activities exploring the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow’s physiotherapy practice.

Why should I go to a conference?

Like any other learning opportunity, the CPD value of attending a conference depends on the answer to three broad questions:

  • How well will the conference content (formal timetabled sessions and informal learning from interacting with other delegates) meet my current learning needs?
  • How closely aligned is the conference format and delivery to my preferred ways of learning?  
  • How will I apply the learning from attending conference to my future practice?

The first port of call is the conference programme.

This document will give you an overview of the structure of the conference, and information about individual sessions.

A conference programme is a dynamic document. Information is added to the programme as the event approaches, as speakers confirm the details of sessions with conference organiser, and so on.

Once you have familiarised yourself to the conference structure (plenary sessions, themes of the parallel sessions, timing of sessions, for example), start to explore the programme content: session titles, presenters and format.

Session titles describe what the presenters and conference organisers know about the session when the programme was written. Session titles, like any form of written communication, are open to interpretation.

That’s why you should look beyond the session title. The session that doesn’t sound particularly relevant could turn out to be a personal highlight of the conference because of how the presenter interpreted the title and interacted with the audience.

If there isn’t enough information about the session to help you decide whether it will meet your learning needs, you may need to do some more research.

If the speaker is listed, but their abstract is not available, why not search the internet for details about them? Google them, for example.

Chances are they will have a digital footprint.

This might give you a flavour of their interests, an insight into what they’re likely to talk about, and information on how they present themselves. Such information might help you to develop a case for having  time away from work to attend the conference.

Physiotherapy UK 2012

A scan of the programme ( tells me there’s a blend of sessions highlighting our practice as CSP members.

There are five themes: burns and plastics, cardio-respiratory, health policy and practice, musculoskeletal, and neurology.

The timetable allows attendees to move between sessions and take refreshment breaks, network and visit the conference exhibition hall. The exhibition hall is a CPD-rich space allowing delegates work at their own pace.

There are opportunities to learn through reading the peer-reviewed posters with a questioning mind, discussing issues with colleagues in professional networks, and visiting the exhibition stands.

These stands provide information about products, services and support relevant to physiotherapy practice and development.  

What particularly inspires me is the mix of learning opportunities. I can go from listening to some short presentations at 9.30 am,  to enjoying a cup of coffee before going into a panel debate before lunch.

Having worked my way around the exhibition space over lunch, the next session takes a lecture format.

After a tea-break, my CPD could come from a set of short presentations, a lecture, or an interactive workshop. The format for the final session on both days take their inspiration from successful TV programmes such as Dragon’s Den and Question Time provide specific learning opportunities.

The variety of formats means that I will be adapting my approach to learning between sessions. This may take some energy, but it will sustain my interest and reduce the risk of sensory overload.  


Because conferences are so much about collaborative learning, the CPD-value of a conference depends on every delegate being critically engaged. And that takes preparation.

We need to be prepared to ask questions of a presenter, to participate in a panel debate, to post constructive feedback on a poster presentation or to engage in discussion about the application of a specific product in practice.

A calendar of CPD activities to help you prepare for Physiotherapy UK 2012 will be available in the CSP’s CPD webfolio very soon.

Visit: to find out how to open the CPD webfolio through your CSP ePortfolio account. fl

CPD activity: Sam goes to conference

This activity will help you think critically about constructing an argument to justify time out of work to attend a conference. The activity focuses on Physiotherapy UK 2012, but the prompts would work equally well for any other conference or formal learning event.  

Sam is a CSP member who is interested in attending Physiotherapy UK 2012. Sam has been asked by their line manager to make the case for time out to attend the conference. The line manager was especially interested in how the investment of time/money would benefit Sam, the service and service users. 

Create a profile for Sam

  • what is Sam’s occupational role? (a graduate on a temporary contract in retail, a rehab assistant, a physiotherapist working in a social enterprise, or a team leader, for example)
  • what is Sam’s area of physiotherapy practice – current and future?  
  • what behaviours, knowledge and skills does Sam need to develop?
  • does Sam have specific learning preferences or needs?
  • what are the current demands, and future plans for the physiotherapy service employing Sam?
  • Make a note of the formal (specific sessions) and informal (such as networking, peer reviewed posters, visiting trade exhibition) learning opportunities available within the conference programme that match Sam’s profile
  • what would Sam gain from each of the learning opportunities you have listed?
  • how would Sam’s learning change the experience of service users?
  • how would Sam’s learning help the physiotherapy service address current demands/future plans?
  • Use the information from sections 1 and 2 to justify why Sam should (or should not) be given time to attend the conference
  • Remember that Sam’s line manager wants to know how this conference will benefit Sam, the service and service users.
  • Step back and critique your argument – as if you were Sam’s manager
  • You might want to work through this step with a peer. Focus on the strengths of your argument, and where it needs developing.    
  • Once you have finished critiquing your argument, look back at the activity and make notes on what you have learnt.
  • Having invested time in this task, make sure you store the evidence of your learning (Sam’s profile, your argument, and any notes taken during this activity) with the record of what you learnt, in your portfolio.  
Gwyn Owen

Number of subscribers: 0

Log in to comment and read comments that have been added