How to Plan an Annual Conference Schedule

Updated: Jun 25, 2018

With my ever growing success in occupational therapy online and offline, I have gotten more people ask me to come to certain conferences. While a good bit of people say that 1 conference is overwhelming enough, I have to put up with at least going to 5 on a yearly basis since I started my current job in summer 2014. Relative to the individuals who do this in occupational therapy, I don't have awesome titles. I don't have much peer reviewed publications. I don't even get a mention as an "international guest" at conferences outside of US. All I have is people's intrigue about me through social media (in terms of the attendees who knows who I am). Not surprisingly, I got a lot of "Bill, you come all the way from America? You are really young in your age (and experience) to do something like this." when I come internationally. But when I explained what I have done, people's response would change to, "Wow! I appreciate that you are coming. In spite you said you could have done more, you really have already done a lot. The fact that you can attend that many conferences shows your dedication to OT."

That said, as I share to more people about my crazy schedules, I also was asked, "How can you afford all these conferences? They are not only physically draining, but also financially, too." I am here to share some tips. I feel these are important especially for those who have to face paying off massive student loans.

1. Know what reimbursements you can get. This can be from your employer, professional association, or any other way that you can get grants. In recent years, for example, since I have become a full time employee at my work, I have been taking advantage of getting my registration expenses for US based conferences reimbursed. Also, I have learned that my AOTA membership can actually allow me to book at member rates at international conferences.

2. Book early. You will save some money obviously on registration costs. You may also save some money on accommodations, too.

3. If you really want to save, stay at a hostel or get an arrangement from Airbnb. Next on the list would either be bed and breakfast or budget hotels. After that, you might want to get together with some friends to share a hotel room for the duration of a conference. But, this really depends on what you can tolerate in terms of comfort in lodging.

4. Do a rough estimate on cost of each conference. Also, map out dates for each conference you want to attend. Finally, determine if you have priorities to attend certain conferences. I know with me as an RA representative, for example... OTAC conferences and AOTA have become automatic includes. Beyond that, while I have a decent budget, I know I still couldn't be reckless in spending. I ended up with 8 conferences because I found out that one of the conferences will be in an easily accessible location wise and I got invited to speak at 2 more conferences. If I had to pay for all 8, I wouldn't have done it.

5. Know your stamina. If 1 is all you can handle for a year, then make that conference experience count. It's more important to do as you are able instead of forcing yourself to do as many as you can.

6. Reflect towards the end of each year. If you are someone with little or no priorities, ask yourself if you want to attend each of the conference you attended again if it were offered next year. If you are someone like me, you must be strong at balancing your priorities and what your want. Even for someone like me... I can't attend ALL the conferences I wanted to go!

7. If you have no idea of what a particular conference experience is like, sometimes it is helpful to just go on Twitter and check the conference hashtags. Major conferences like AOTA, RCOT, CAOT, and OT Australia conference hashtags should be active when each conference is going on.

8. Since I know I am the type of person who doesn't purposely travel to a place for a pure vacation, I will often use my savings to add an extra few days to my stay for fun activities.

Overall, my message about attending conferences is, be disciplined! They are not cheap in nature. If you want to get a bang for your money spent, do your homework- not only in terms of what the conferences are all about, but also the destination of where you might be heading. This exercise has paid off tremendously when I attended my international conferences.

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