How to decide which conferences to attend

There is something about the whirlwind of a conference and being around those who just get what it means to be a sterile processing and healthcare professional. Despite the location or crowd size, there is a distinct energy surging throughout the presentation rooms and out onto the vendor fair floor. This environment can be very intimidating to first-time attendees. Even the experienced conference goer can feel overwhelmed during the day’s events.

With all the conferences happening throughout the year, it can be difficult to determine which ones to attend. We cannot afford to attend or take the time to accommodate all of them, that’s for sure. We have to be sure the ones we do attend are worth it.

Conference purpose

While conferences come in all shapes and sizes, the primary purpose of a conference is to bring a group of people together so that they can discuss their field, share ideas, and relate through experiences. By offering a space for those who share hobbies, passions, and/or professions, conferences provide an outlet for the attendees to fully immerse themselves in their common interest.

Typically, conferences last for several days and are scheduled to include seminars, workshops, and educational presentations. There is always a conference host, whether it’s an organization or a company. Some professional conferences that come to mind include:

  • The professional, large, in-person Healthcare Sterile Processing Association (HSPA) annual conference that draws thousands of attendees
  • Virtual conferences, such as those provided by Beyond Clean, which were made much more popular during the COVID era and are a huge value-add
  • Interdisciplinary conferences, such as the Scrubball, which offer educational content and recognition events across multiple professional industries
  • Smaller, local conferences, held by HSPA chapters throughout the country

Regardless of the venue, the goal remains the same: to provide a place for professionals to learn about current industry happenings, network with each other, and engage in education.

Determining value

Determining value is the purpose of a conference, plain and simple. Now, what an attendee gets out of the conference can only be determined by them. Their conference experience will be determined by their own external and internal factors. The conference experience equation is:

internal factors – external factors = value

External factors are typically all the things a person can’t control. This includes, but is not limited to, associated costs, level of facility support, and intensity of facility expectations. External factors often take a considerable amount of time, energy, and effort from the yearning professional. If the professional has to fight for their approved time off, is 100% financially responsible for travel, ticket, and accommodations, or is expected to give an inservice upon return, then these external factors will ultimately set the overall level of expectation for the attendee’s conference experience before even arriving.

Internal factors are the personal reasons why the healthcare professional wants to attend the conference. Internal factors influence their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This includes, but is not limited to, professional goals, networking, overall enjoyment, and personal experience. Internal factors influence the attendee’s expectations of their investment. The external investments of effort, time and money will be deemed valuable to the degree that their personal expectations are met. Therefore, a conference is only valuable when the number of internal factors met exceeds the initial external factors.

If at the end of the conference day the remaining external factors are greater than the internal, then the conference holds less or no value to the attendee. This value is usually demonstrated when a colleague asks the attendee, “How was it?” If they answer, “Meh” with a shrug or “It was all right, but…,” then the return on investment was not met. On the other hand, if they answer, “You should have been there!” or they begin recalling the entire event, then clearly the return on investment (ROI) was met and the conference held value.

Make it worth it

Regardless of platform or venue, a conference attendee can ensure they get the most out of a conference. The primary thing to consider is how much they must invest initially before even stepping foot into the conference. Professionals can make a list of all the external factors that they will need to invest time, energy, and effort into before deciding whether a conference will be worth attending. Actuality is important in this process. Assumption is the biggest indicator of misunderstanding. Don’t just assume travel is going to be expensive, figure out the actual cost of gas/mileage or an airline ticket.

This external factor list can scare off even the bravest of souls. Before tossing it into the garbage, make an internal factor list next to it. This process requires honesty. Honesty is the only way our true ambitions can shine. The internal factors should reflect all the reasons why you want to go, so dig deep.

If the internal side is longer or more profound than the external side, then go back to your external list and work out how you can go about accommodating the external factors. This process will outline the obligations that need to be met in order to attend the conference. Are these obligations even possible? This side-by-side comparison will offer clarity to the final decision.

While the only question should be “Will I stay or will I go?” we first have to determine if we can. Deciding which conferences to attend can be difficult when there are so many options available. Seeing social media posts and reading experiences by those who attend can make any professional feel left out. The ability to weigh the potential value of an upcoming conference against our own predicaments and desires can offer valuable insight into our ability to participate, grow professionally, and achieve our personal and career goals.