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The meat in the sandwich: conference attendance

Conferences provide the opportunity to showcase your own work, learn from the work of others and share experiences and ideas. Conference reports allow many more people to reap the benefits than could possibly attend in person

In many situations, business meetings have now been replaced by teleconferences. Modern software and widespread internet access makes it possible for individuals, as well as large corporations, to organise teleconferences and this can save much time and energy and improve efficiency. It is sometimes suggested that professional conferences could also be replaced by virtual meetings but how far could this achieve the same objectives for attendees as an actual, physical conference?

A series of webinars and electronic posters could convey the academic messages but face-to-face interactions, chance encounters with new colleagues, and the illumination gained from other people’s questions and the discussions that follow would be lost. In addition, there would be no opportunity to visit the trade exhibition and learn about new products, devices and services.

For human beings, the social nature of the overall event is important for this is how we build our professional networks. And this leads to the least tangible benefit of professional gatherings, that is, the opportunity to find out about the personalities and departments that might offer attractive job or training opportunities or professional collaborations.

Some conferences have incorporated stimulating formats such as debates where experienced practitioners argue the cases for and against a type of treatment or service. A well-chosen topic gives the audience the opportunity to listen to opposing expert viewpoints with arguments clearly articulated.

Another useful format is ‘Top Papers’ where experts review a handful of landmark publications and put them into context for the audience. This is done very well at the ADKA (German Hospital Pharmacists’ Association) conference and the popularity of the session underlines its value. Voting technology, where the audience answers questions during the presentation, can be used to great effect and now this can even be done through Wi-Fi using conference apps on audience members’ smart phones and tablets.

Another innovation was the UKCPA decision to include two ‘free’ 15-minute slots for members to contribute short presentations on topics of interest, which got off to an excellent start. This year’s HPE Live (13 October) has also embraced a new format built around case examples. All of these measures are important because we all need updates in areas that are not our main focus and a format that is engaging and fun makes the learning easier.

Reports of conference highlights are the icing on the cake. They form a critical part of ‘spreading the word’, carrying key messages out for wider consumption. A report is what it says – a report of what was said; it gives the many who could not attend the meat from the conference sandwich.

Conferences are making increasing use of high-tech gadgetry and this works best when it is used to support face-to-face human communication rather than to replace it. Make sure you are at HPE Live this year to have a generous helping of face-to-face professional contact.


Christine Clark PhD FRPharmS FCPP(Hon)
Editor, HPE

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