Tips for Attending National Public Health Conferences
Stephanie Kroll, MPH
Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellow
Wisconsin Division of Public Health
Public Health Madison & Dane County
Madison, WI

Bailey Murph, MPH
Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellow
United Way of Greater Milwaukee

Milwaukee, WI

As first-year Population Health Service Fellows, Bailey Murph and I recently attended the American Evaluation Association (AEA) conference in Denver, Colorado and the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference in New Orleans, LA.  While attending, we came up with some tips for attending these big, national conferences. 
Here are our top tips for attending big, national conferences:
1.    Use this opportunity to explore public health topic areas that you are interested in.
It is difficult to find presentations that will give you skills or a deep knowledge in a topic area that you are already working in.  Explore other topic areas of interest. Bailey and I attended a set of presentations on food waste, a topic we both are not widely familiar with, and we walked away with new and interesting knowledge.  We also found that immersing ourselves in a new topic area was quite enjoyable, and we had a desire to learn more.
2.    Attend state-specific events and work at an information booth.
This can give you a chance to meet others working in your state.  It is always funny how you sometimes have to travel somewhere else to meet people from your area…but sometimes this is the case!  Before you leave the exhibit hall, be sure to wander around and see who else is in the room. Reason one: there may be a free water bottle or cool pen you want from a prospective employer or university. Oh, and food. Also, food. Reason two: there are people in the room that you want to meet and you should meet. This is a perfect networking opportunity.
3.    Plan out the talks you are going to go to ahead of time, with considerations about time needed for travel between locations.
The sheer number of presentations at these national conferences can be overwhelming.  Start looking at the presentation topics and speakers at least a few days beforehand.  Do the research and prep work!  Make sure to look up both topics and people you are interested in.  Don’t feel like you have to book your schedule solid. You’ll soon discover that there is just too much going on, and you need to give yourself a break. Take it from two introverts.
4.    Don’t be afraid to walk out of a presentation.
Even after all of your research and preparation, sometimes the presentations are not what you thought what they were.  This happens, and it’s understood by conference attendees and presenters.  Don’t be afraid to walk out of a presentation if this happens.
5.    Wear comfortable shoes.  Comfort > Fashion.
These big national conferences require a decent amount of walking.  Bailey and I both found ourselves walking in subpar footwear and had to face the consequences. 
6.    Keep good notes.
Bring paper, an iPad or etc.  You can also take pictures of slides. If there are handouts, make sure you grab them! These are great resources to take home and share with your colleagues.
7.    Attend a data visualization presentation!
…especially those by Stephanie Evergreen ( 
8.    Go to a set of rapid-fire presentations (~10 minutes each). 
You can get a lot of content in a short period of time.  These presentations are generally on “easy to digest” topic areas as well.  …which can be nice after the intense theory or data focused presentations you might attend.
9.    Keep your business cards on you at all times, if you don’t already.
You never know who you might run into.  I swapped cards at a restaurant while waiting for a table while at APHA. Bailey met a woman from a local Wisconsin town near where she lives, and the woman invited her to coffee anytime she’s in the area. How cool is that?
10.  Consider packing breakfast and/or snacks.
It can save you a lot of money and time to pack any snacks or meals. It’s expensive to eat when you travel.  However, don’t pack all your meals/snacks.  Also be sure to enjoy some of the local cuisine!
11.  There are some let downs…so try to go with the flow.
Not all talks will be what you hoped they would be.  You won’t network as much as you hoped.  Not as many people will look at your poster as you anticipated (even after all the hard work you put into it!).  No conference is perfect.  Try to reflect back every day on the little nuggets of knowledge that you got…or the acquaintance you got to know better.
12.  Have fun!! 
If you have time, make sure to take the time to look up restaurants to eat at and local sites to see!  Some things take reservations…so it is good to think ahead. J
Conference going can be a grueling process, but reflecting back you’ll realize how rewarding it was. Travel is difficult, crowds are frustrating and never seem to move at the pace you’d like. Be open to learning something new, plan ahead, take breaks, wear comfortable shoes and always have a snack with you. Keep those points in mind, and you’ll be on your way to an incredible conference experience.