There is something special about going to clinics. It’s that moment where you can get out of the space you work day after day, being able to surround yourself with the people that share your passion and learn from experts in the field. By deeply immersing yourself in this sort of environment for hours or days not only forces you to become better at your craft by being in the environment which forces you to learn. If you are anything like me, with all the excitement of traveling to your first clinic, it can be difficult to know what to prepare for. This is the same advice I give to the interns and students that I work with should help you as well.
Once you’ve registered for your first clinic, the learning process has just begun. By definition, learning is an active event where the presenter and the audience need to be working together for the exchange of information. From my own experience there were far too many times where I’ve sat through a class or lecture only to leave the room with no idea what was being said or what even happened. Now some people will tell you it’s the presenters fault for not keeping me engaged, but it wasn’t their fault. It was mine and mine alone. You see, I was the one who chose to go to the clinic. I was the one who didn’t understand the topic. I was the one who didn’t research the presenter.
Almost every clinic I’ve been a part of as a presenter or an attendee has a list of speakers and their topics as part of their registration information. If you are truly excited to learn from these experts, then put this information to good use. Lay out the people that you must go listen to. Do a quick search on Google for their topic or past presentations and get some background information. Lastly, look up the presenter’s social media accounts to see what they post about. Once you’ve done this homework, your brain becomes a sponge for new information plus you have time and a background to ask better questions at the end. If I’ve learned anything is that your professional life is going to be dictated by the quality of questions that you ask.
It’s embarrassing, but I have to admit when I went to my first big clinic I felt very intimidated. That was back in the day when I was first starting out as a coach and got the chance to fly to a clinic where I didn’t know anyone at sounded like a good idea at the time. But here I was, all by myself and it seemed that everyone I saw were locked in conversations with people they had known for years. Like I said, I was intimidated and felt like I couldn't break into any of the conversations. That first clinic was horrible, sure I picked up some information from the presenters but from the networking aspect it was a complete flop. During the socials I was in the corner by myself. I ate meals by myself. At nights I was alone in my room watching TV by myself. On the long and lonely flight home, I made a promise to myself that clinics would never again be like that.
From that day on I would assume the responsibility to be the one that start conversations with strangers. I assume the responsibility to bring the people hovering on the fringe of the group into the group. I assume the responsibility to be the one that introduces people to each other. You can, and should take on this responsibility too. In fact it's really easy. Smile. Look people in the eye. Introduce yourself. Start talking about the clinic. The hardest part is simply getting yourself to believe that you have to be the one that is going to do all of this. For many people, including myself, this means that you are going to have to change the way you perceive yourself or the way you think about your role in a social situation. It’s hard at first, but it’s completely worth it.
At clinics, especially during a social hour you are going to have a big question to answer. Are you going to drink or not? Blame it on my heritage of being a proud Wisconsin resident but in my mind there is nothing wrong with having drinks at a clinic, assuming that you are of legal drinking age that is. The value of attending a clinic doesn’t simply start or end by going to the presentations, but it instead it lies with the new people you meet and connect with. And there are plenty of opportunities to meet and connect with people at clinics. Here are some examples: hosted socials, sponsored events with vendors, having a dinner or any other meal out, walking down the hallway between events, or simply waiting in line to get a morning cup of coffee. With most of these opportunities, you are going to be in situations where alcohol is going to be available.
If you do make the choice to drink, remember this is not like a house party. Going to clinics are opportunity for some people to unwind and decompress by having drinks with their friends and colleagues. Keep in mind that while you are at the clinic or event it is simply not the same person that would be having drinks in the same situation. For good or bad, you are representing your institution (especially if they are paying for the clinic) and may not perceive your indulgences as harmless. Here are some tips to keep everything on the up and up.
Attending clinics are some of the things I look forward to each year. Every time I go to one I see old friends, pick up new ideas, and get something that to me is worth every penny of the trip: I’m re-energized to get back to work. The advice you’ve just read is something which I’ve has helped me personally and our staff members improve their clinic experiences. You can easily improve the quality of the information and the number of new people you meet by following these tips. Next time you’re out at a clinic keep your eyes open because you might just see me there. And if you do, assume the responsibility to stop by and introduce yourself.
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