Zoe Parker, the College’s Education Officer gives a rundown on annual conference for first timers. Follow Zoe on Twitter.
This year we have more people than ever coming to our annual conference.
We are delighted to be welcoming more than 500 students, and many other delegates will also be attending for the first time.
The aim of this post is to support people to get the most they can out of the conference experience. You also might like to check out our previous post from February on #COT2016.
Before you go
You will have already booked your sessions and these will have been confirmed by email. If you haven’t been using social media for your CPD, conference is a great time to take the plunge. Join in the conversation in time to feel confident with using social media for professional networking and learning. You can find out more about using social media as an OT at our British Journal of Occupational Therapy (BJOT) article.
Using social media adds a digital dimension and record to your experience. If you’re wondering where to start to dip your toe into the waters of learning through social media get inspiration from checking out our introduction to social media and our social media briefing (please note, these are COT member only resources).
It’s possible to link up on social media before you go with other delegates and with your hosts from the conference programme committee if you follow the hashtag #COT2016. You can follow #COT2016 on Twitter.
It’s a really good idea to plan your learning by setting yourself some questions or things to focus on throughout conference. Based on the sessions you have chosen what will your learning questions be?
First thing to do when you arrive
Once you’ve arrived, register and collect your personalised timetable. Soon after you arrive…it’s a good idea to check out where your sessions are being held and get a sense of the geography of the venue and how it is laid out. This will prevent you from panicking to find your sessions at the last-minute and getting lost. Please note that if you arrive late for a session you will not be admitted even if you have booked. This is as a courtesy to presenters and their audiences.
Just before conference opens
There will be a pre-conference session in the main auditorium aimed at students and other first timers from 12.45 to 1.30 shortly before the opening plenary at 1.50. As this will help familiarize you and be a chance to meet others in the same boat it would be a great shame to miss this session.
One thing that the pre-conference session will definitely mention is the Student Zone – a space for students to meet and chat during the conference where there will often be more experienced colleagues around to act as informal mentors and advisors and support your learning. Another thing that you’ll find out about is the graffiti wall in the Student Zone. This will be a place to share why you love occupational therapy. Try to pace yourself and have some time out or periods of solitude during #COT2016 so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by information overload.
Meeting and networking
You may be intending to go with a friend or friends, or your first step may be to make new conference friends to share the experience with. It’s great to treat every chance at a new connection as an opportunity to see things from another perspective. You’ll find listening and being open to learning is every bit as important as how you present yourself to others.
If you make friends who go to different sessions from you ask about what they learned. Then you can hear about the things you couldn’t attend because they were fully booked or because you can’t be in two or more places at once (because there’s so much on offer). Jot down notes and reminders throughout – even just a word or two can bring things back to mind later.
Many people find that tweeting is a way to do this that makes a change from notes scribbled in haste. The process of tweeting can aid reflection in itself as you have to distill things in order to communicate within the character limit and say something of meaning to your followers.
Seize new opportunities
Meet the folks from OTalk face to face and see behind the scenes as they host a live OTalk tweetchat.
Take home your learning
What you have recorded can be looked back on afterwards and you may find that you will go on thinking about it for a long while. In this way attendance at conference can be the first step in a longer process of learning and a major driver of CPD outcomes.
Keep in touch
Follow up the contacts you have made so that you can continue to learn and build friendship networks that may last a lifetime. Consider signing up for COT Specialist Section/s and being more active in your regional network.
Above all have fun and enjoy the rich experience in order to reap long-lasting rewards from your time spent in Harrogate at #COT2016!
Have your say
Keep an eye on the comments to this blog and please contribute. What tips would people who have attended COT Annual Conferences in the past like to share with newcomers?
Please add them in the comment box below. Newcomers are urged to post questions here too for this community to answer.
We aim to post updates here (and on twitter using the hashtag #COT2016) that may be useful for newcomers.