Making the Most of the Conference with a Conference Buddy

Written by Cristin Lind, Elin Salmiranta

Though we miss learning from colleagues at in-person conferences, the shift to virtual meeting spaces has many advantages — they’re less expensive, better for the planet and enable diversity. And as improvement leaders who are also parents of young people with disabilities, we have found that virtual conferences let us access great content with fewer disruptions to our busy family lives.

If we’re honest though, we’re experiencing one big challenge with virtual conferences. It’s harder to stay engaged and focused. Virtual conferences don’t allow us to turn off work and home and give our full attention to learning, development and networking in the same way as live conferences can. We might have every intention to be present for on-line sessions, but it can be harder to set boundaries for our co-workers, family and ourselves.

Improving our virtual conference learning experience
Recently, we were both planning to attend the same on-line conference and decided to try to improve our own experience. We talked on the phone a day before the conference discussing how we could attend the conference “together”. Here’s what we did:

  • Before the conference, we took a walk and talked on the phone. In the 20 minutes before the conference began, we were able to talk about what we hoped to get out of the day, and to set a personal intention for ourselves. It got us moving and gave us energy and a sense of anticipation. The walk also helped us put aside our regular work, and turn our focus to the conference itself.

  • During the day, we found that we were able to stay more focused knowing that another person wanted to listen to our impressions and thoughts. We sent text messages to each other throughout the day, similar to how we might chat during or between live sessions if we had been together.

  • After the conference, we did another walk-and-talk. Mirroring the morning walk, it became a space to reflect on and integrate what we had learned. If we haven’t had a conference buddy, we probably would have started to work on the computer right away, by for example reading emails and checking off tasks on the to-do list. Some reflection questions we used included:
     – What did I learn?
     – What did I hear that worked well for me/energized me?
     – What challenged me?
     – What will I do or do differently now?

Attending a conference with a “buddy” can be super simple; no complicated preparation is needed. Ask one or several friends if they want to be your conference buddy. Meet before, for example on phone, Teams or Zoom, and decide how you will plan your attendance together. We really appreciated taking physical walks just before and after the conference and talking at the same time. Decide some reflection points beforehand or reflect freely.

See you at the next BMJ/IHI International Forum!