Become A Nursing Conference Pro: 6 things every nurse should know

by: Beth Hawkes

One of the perks of being a nurse is going to nursing conferences! You get to be inspired all over again, learn the very latest that’s out there, make new friends, and have fun!

confernce-pro600-x-853-PinterestEvery nursing specialty has its conferences. Recently I attended the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ (AACN’s) annual mega conference, the National Teaching Institute (NTI) along with Team StaffGarden and friends in New Orleans.

The exhibit hall alone was like a huge county fair with an overwhelming number of vendors and sky-high exhibitions. Vendors bring their A-game because they know that nurses influence product choices. It really takes two days to do the NTI Expo Hall justice.

What was impressive were the mini-teaching sessions right in the exhibit hall “ExpoEd”, 30 minute, quick focused presentations that covered topics such as capnography, SV02 monitoring, and sepsis guidelines.

Justification for Attendance

Conferences take time and money. Do your best to get your facility to help subsidize your expenses. You will never know unless you ask, and it’s all in how you frame the request.

When you ask for approval, present it as how it will benefit the organization. From your boss’ point of view, you should offer measurable change and improvement by virtue of your attendance.

Want to attend a conference? Do research, have objectives, be specific. [icon name=”twitter” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]

Research the speakers and topics. Print out a detailed list of the sessions and highlight the ones you will attend. Have objectives and strategies and explain how you will share information when you return.

Be specific. “I will be attending the Ventilator Weaning Super Session and will present the latest evidenced based findings in a 15 minute inservice at the August staff meeting”. You can also offer to help write the weaning policy or procedure, or present in a class for the new grads.

Offer to share a room with a colleague. If needed, have a plan for who will cover for you at work while you are at the conference.

Pack and Prep

Portable charger for your phone- carry it with you to charge on the go. No one has time to worry about their phone dying.

Bring small bills for tipping.

Download your Uber app if you haven’t done so already.

Bring nutritious snacks, such as cashews or string cheese. High protein and/or fat will sustain you and save you from having to buy food at the airport. It’s not always convenient to stand in line for pricey food between sessions or when rushing to the next event.

Bandaids: I’ve been to my share of conferences but am clearly still not a pro because I got a heel blister from a pair of shoes that were too cute not wear. I’ll have to rethink that choice.


Snap pictures of poster presentations. There’s a lot of information and every hospital is dealing with the same hot topics: CAUTI, HAIs, pressure ulcers. You can refer to the picture later.

If you see a bathroom in the airport or conference space, use it. Practice prophylactic bathrooming.

Sign up for complimentary sunrise breakfasts or sponsored dinners. These are vendor-sponsored events, which fill up quickly, so you must register ahead of time

Get to meeting rooms early to get a choice seat. Often popular sessions fill up quickly.

Save Money

Share a room with a friend to save costs. But be sure you’re compatible- the party people and the early to bed people may not make the best roomies! Do you snore? Full disclosure up front is the best approach, just own it.

Book early to save money and get a desirable hotel. Hotel rooms are usually very reasonably priced because the conference holders pre-book rooms at a negotiated price.

Join the sponsoring nursing organization when you register for a discounted conference price. The perks of membership outweigh the price of membership.

Pace Yourself

Conferences take up a tremendous amount of “being on” energy. Only you know your personal energy level and your own resting/recovery needs. Skip an afternoon session and relax in your cool, serene, air-conditioned hotel room.

Turn off your alarm and sleep in one morning until you wake up. Freshen up before venturing out for dinner. Typically you are in a different time zone and in dehydrating environments, so drink water, water, and more water. Have a bottle of water with you at all times.

Prioritize your events because you can’t possibly do everything.


Networking is not just for high level nurses or for older nurses. It is for all nurses. You may meet your future boss and you will definitely make mutually beneficial connections.

Determine to get out of your comfort zone. You will be apprehensive because you must engage socially with new people. But if you hang out exclusively with your friends from your hospital and never once feel uncomfortable, you have missed an opportunity to further your networking skills.

Networking is not just for high level nurses or for older nurses. It is for all nurses. [icon name=”twitter” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]

Be prepared to start conversations with strangers. Except they’re not really strangers, they’re fellow nurses! Exchange business cards. Ask a new acquaintance if you can connect on LinkedIn and before the day is over, send an invitation with a note.

Practice your small talk skills. You get better with practice.

Professional Dress

This is not a time to show up totally comfy and casual just because you’re “off work”.  You are out among hundreds and maybe thousands of other nurses, and you are branding yourself.

Pictures will be taken and shared on social media.

Plan several outfits complete with accessories and with color and style in mind. Three coordinated pieces (as opposed to two pieces) take any outfit up a notch. For example, slacks, a top, and a vest or jacket. For women, wearing an office-level dress gives an extremely nice, polished appearance. Try wearing a dress on one day and see the difference it makes in how you feel.

Layer as some meeting rooms are frigid. Scarves are a nice accessory that can be easily stuffed in your bag and serve as something warm on your neck in a chilly meeting room.

You will not ever regret looking fabulous and feeling confident.


You have to plan your sessions, and also plan your fun time. Research the destination city you’ll be in and make a list of “gottas”. It’s an opportunity to experience food, entertainment, culture, music, and nightlife.

Depending on what city you’re in, there are colorful street performers, amazing meals, and of course there’s always shopping!

Consider bringing your partner, staying over a few days, and making it a vacation!

Next year, NTI is in Houston, Texas. I vote we all go and have a meet up at the StaffGarden booth, are you in?


Nurse Beth


Beth Hawkes

Beth Hawkes

StaffGarden Contributor

Author Nurse Beth, MSN, RN-BC,  is a Nursing Professional Development Specialist, and a well-known career advice columnist and writer. For more of Nurse Beth’s articles, visit

More From StaffGarden