Learning from your conference experience

CSP education adviser Nina Paterson encourages you to sign up for this year’s PhysiotherapyUK and highlights the CPD opportunities it offers

Learning from your conference experience

It isn’t often that I kick myself about choices I’ve made. In part because I’m a big believer in planning especially SWOT, PESTLE and STEEPLE analyses. I’ve even been known to scribble down a set of weighted criteria when choosing washing up liquids on my weekly grocery shop.

However I’m not kicking myself over my shopping choices. The thing that prompted this particular reflection was a professional decision. For quite a number of years I had been a theme lead for Physiotherapy UK (PTUK). What that means is that I was one of the CSP staff responsible for everything right through from setting the programme to planning and running each session for a particular strand/theme. I loved being a theme lead but after my fourth conference, I felt that maybe it would be good to take a break. I’d definitely consolidated my skills in event management, and thought it might be a chance to give another colleague the opportunity. 

Which meant that last year, having seen the programme for Physio UK, I was simply looking forward to going as a delegate. I was delivering one of the workshops at a campfire session so even if I couldn’t go for the two days, I could still go for the day of my session. 

What I hadn’t accounted for was that the conference was going to be sold out, and even had a waiting list. Which meant, rightly, that CSP staff were asked to give up their space so that you, our members, could attend. My session was great, but that was pretty much it for me and Physiotherapy UK last year sadly.

So when I was given another opportunity to be a theme lead this year, I jumped at it. Before I even knew what theme they wanted me to lead, I’d already said yes. Because if nothing else it means that I won’t miss out again. 

This year, with my colleague Alex Nambyiah, one of the professional advisers here at the CSP, I’m heading up the Leading for Change theme. 

If the focused symposia are anything to go by, it’s going to be brilliant. Over the two days we’re looking at workforce needs, disruptive leadership, the neuroscience behind leadership, leadership at all levels of your career, embracing change, and bringing us full circle back to workforce needs – innovations in placements - a session looking critically at placements through the lens of current, and importantly, future needs. 

The chairs, speakers, and facilitators are amazing. They come from all over the UK, are representative of the breadth of the profession so whether you’re clinical, a researcher or an educator you’ll find sessions that will resonate with you. I realise that I’m biased, but given the topics I regularly write about in this series, and my job – leading change within the physiotherapy education community – these would absolutely have been the sessions I would have been trying to get into as a delegate. 

The other themes, which are just as brilliant can be found here  

  • Managing complex pain
  • Exercise and decision making
  • Managing multi system trauma
  • Ageing well

Each of these themes are being delivered in partnership with the following professional networks: 

Why go to a conference? 

I’m obviously enthusiastic about PTUK but let’s take a step back and think about conferences in general.

Why go to one? They are a fantastic opportunity to learn from others and explore issues. You’ll be able to question, critique and be challenged yourself. You’ll be grounding your ideas and your practice in evidence. And of course, they are a great opportunity to network. 

If you are presenting, then they’re also a great opportunity to practice your public speaking skills and develop your research profile. 

How do you get the most out of them? 

To get the most out of a conference you really just need to be present and engage. Learning is always active. If you sit passively for two days, you’re not going to get much out of any conference. So if you’re going to get the most out of your £129/169 ticket then step 1 is come ready to be a sponge. 

Most scientific conference organisers do consider pace and variety when they are putting together their programmes. We certainly do at PTUK – which is why you’ll see different types of sessions in November – everything from workshops, focused symposia, campfires, networking sessions, through to posters and platform presentations. Which means, step 2, that you’ll need to be comfortable switching your learning styles. If you really want to challenge yourself then perhaps choose sessions that take you out of your comfort zone. 

Which links neatly with step 3. Join in. Participate. I remember being heartbroken when acting as a door person at conference a good few years ago and hearing two delegates discussing which session to go to. ‘Oh no!’ exclaimed one of the pair, ‘it’s a workshop – we’ll have to say something. Let’s go next door, that’s a lecture we just have to sit there’. 

Step 4. It is always worth looking at the programme ahead of time, reading the objectives and matching them with your reasons and objectives for going to the conference in the first place. The CPD activity this month will cover this in more detail but suffice to say – choose sessions carefully and it’s also worth planning a set of back up sessions just in case something is oversubscribed. 

And finally, Step 5. Build in time to pause and reflect. I still remember my first conference. It was saturated with platform speakers and rapid 5s and very little else. I ran from session to session trying to absorb the viewpoints, research and impact studies of 5 to 7 speakers or presenters per session. I thought my head was going to pop.

Thankfully all of the other conferences I’ve been to have had a better pace, but that trip did teach me (the hard way) to make sure that I build a time into each day to stop, think about what I’ve just heard, join the dots between sessions and make some personal decisions about what I’m going to do with all of this ‘stuff’. I take time in the moment (or as close to as possible) to make notes, jot ideas down, pull together any reports I want to take back to my team. And when I have had time to mull things over for a longer period, I record it. You’ll see that we’ve provided a form Learning from a formal event that you can use to record your thinking if you’re at a conference. 

It works for any conference – so if you’ve just come back from the National Association of Educators in Practice conference – Whose Placement is it anyway? in Birmingham, you might like to use this to record that experience.

If you’d like an online copy, you know where to find it – click the giant orange CSP resources button on your dashboard in the CSP ePortfolio . And finally, before we move onto the CPD activities it’s worth saying that if you’re now feeling inspired to come to PhysiotherapyUK this year – the tickets are selling fast. Don’t be like me last year regretting not having the chance to go. Get in quick and make the most of the early bird reduction while you can. 

Activity 1: If you’re not yet coming to PTUK

If you’re still undecided, apart from checking out the programme you might want to do as I do at the supermarket and create your own set of criteria to help you weigh up your decision. Alternatively you could use a different form (also found in the ePortfolio) such as ‘planning your learning’ form. If you don’t want to download it via that big orange button, we gave you a hard copy of this form in the December 2019 issue of Frontline, so flick back through your old Frontline to the CPD into action article. 

The form will guide you through your short and long-term goals, your objectives, and impact. Once you’ve completed it, you’ll be able to look through the programme and determine which sessions are going to help you achieve those aims and objectives. If you completed it as part of the December CPD Activity then you’re one step ahead. You’ll just need to grab it from your portfolio and undertake the same exercise. It’s always worth going through a formal process of recording your plans. Apart from having a record for HCPC and appraisals, you’ll find it helpful to in terms of making the case to your manager for the choices you’ve made.

Activity 2: Attending or participating?

So once you’ve decided on a conference and the sessions that you’ll attend. Go – enjoy and engage. Follow the prompts in 
the main article. 

  • Be a sponge – soak it all up
  • Challenge yourself
  • Participate
  • Plan ahead and have a contingency
  • Pause and think about what you’re learning.

If you’re looking for more ideas to help you get the most out of conferences, there are a couple of CPD articles (one written all the way back in 2012!) that you might want to re-read and the other one here.

Activity 3: Make a formal record of this thinking

Make sure you capture your plans, goals and next steps. The form we’ve reproduced here will help you to record your learning. 

It’s worth saying that if you’re facilitating one of the focused symposia sessions or have an abstract accepted for a platform or poster, then the same applies. Make sure you’re clear before you go what you want to get out of the conference but also be clear about how you want to develop as a presenter. The form supplied will work for both situations. 

You might also find it worth going back to the abstract submission page 

You’ll see that apart from being where you submitted your abstract there are a range of resources including a link to an eBites found within the CSP Learning Hub to help you if you are presenting at a conference. You’ll also find CAHPRs top tips – there’s one on preparing a scientific poster.

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