Originally posted on Birthing, Bonding and Breastfeeding by Christy Jo on December 6th, 2018.
As we welcome in the New Year, we welcome new opportunities for education in 2019. The line up of lactation and perinatal conferences is extremely encouraging, but can also be overwhelming and could even break the bank. With so many amazing options, how does one choose which conferences to attend? I hope to break down the process and help everyone with considerations for this daunting task. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the major factors that influence decisions and how we can navigate the waters.
The main considerations when selecting which educational opportunity to attend include: cost, location, date, speaker line-up and networking opportunities. Many attendees also make decisions based on who the conference will benefit, or the reputation of the organization hosting the event. Audiences may also select a conference if it provides Continuing Education Units or CEUs to attendees.
I usually attend several low-cost, high-quality, local conferences and one or two international conferences annually. How do I make my dollars stretch and afford me these amazing opportunities? I follow these suggestions:
Get a good value
With conference prices ranging from $65 to almost $1,000, a conference budget is essential. Some of the lower-priced conferences provide a great value with access to amazing speakers. Attendees may miss out on a few perks when attending a smaller conferences. For instance, meals may not be provided, there may not be huge exhibits with all the new gadgets and technology (along with a mirage of free promotional gifts), but if you already have enough canvass bags to fill a closet, you aren’t sacrificing much, so I encourage you to take advantage of these steep discounts and amazing deals. Lower prices may also mean fewer speakers or only local speakers. Don’t let this persuade you not to attend. Every local area has access to amazing speakers and it is more the quality of the speakers–not the quantity. I have sat in an audience hoping for a lecture to continue all day only to discover the time cut short to allow for additional topics.
There are so many reasons to support local organizations. You can network with colleagues while supporting the efforts of those in your area. You will save on travel, hotel and meal expenses. Building bridges and collaborating with the locals are essentials in the perinatal world. You may discover great referrals, businesses and programs right in your own backyard. I always look forward to reunions with my community connections. We are able to move forward together after a rejuvenating event.
most conferences offer an early bird rate. If organizers can get people to sign up early, they can use the funds to promote the event and pay for expenses they incur early on in the planning stages. Some of these early bird rates offer hundreds of dollars off the regular registration price. Keep in mind, many events also charge a substantial fee for those who procrastinate and register late. Pay close attention to cut-off dates, the early bird really does get the worm.
Some conferences seek additional help in the planning or production phases. Ask the organizers if there are any volunteer opportunities that may result in registration discounts. Bartering with service can be a creative way to earn your ticket and get to know those attending the conference. If you are an extrovert, you will not only benefit from the work, but truly enjoy yourself.
Join the organization
Most events are hosted by an organization. if the host is a Breastfeeding Coalition, WIC Agency or La Leche League, they offer member discounts. Joining the organization will keep you up to date on their events and secure a discount all while supporting a good cause.
Become an Exhibitor
Conference organizers love the exhibitors. Exhibitors fund much of the event, and provide additional opportunities for the attendees. If you have items to sell, consider renting a booth and becoming an exhibitor. Some conferences offer discounts for exhibitors to attend the conference. You can reclaim your registration cost and promote your business at the same time. Don’t have your own merchandise? Consider working for a company. I have hired representatives to tend my booth and often part of their compensation is registration to the event.
Submit an abstract
Do you have research you would like to share? Do you enjoy presenting? Are you eager to add to the knowledge of colleagues? Why not submit an abstract and venture out as a public speaker? You would be surprised to know how many people I know that present at in-services or staff meetings that never considered presenting in a conference setting. Many of these same individuals are now making the rounds and appear on conference flyers everywhere. Take the leap, this may be just the push you need to enter the circuit and share your knowledge and gift with the world.
Take advantage of group rates
Check to see if the conference offers a group discount. If they do, find some friends who would appreciate the information and organize a group to attend.
See if your employer has educational funds
Many jobs encourage education and have funds set aside for their employees. Check with your employer to see if there are any applicable programs that can sponsor your education. Even if your company does not pay for the conference, some will allow you to attend on work time if the training will benefit your place of employment.
Save on travel and accommodations
While not directly related to registration fees, you can save enough on travel to justify the expense of attending your favorite conferences. Booking airfare early, using airline points or taking advantage of sales can help to reduce travel costs. Shop around for your hotel. Oftentimes, you can find your own hotel or airbnb cheaper than the accommodations recommended by the conference organizers. You can also find roommates to share the expense. If you do decide to stay at the hotel hosting, try going to the hotel site directly rather than the through the link provided on the conference registration page. Look for discounts, such as AAA or AARP offered by the hotel. You also may be able to get a discount by calling the front desk and asking for any specials. There may be unadvertised discounts for those who sign up for their rewards program. It never hurts to ask.
Want to really save on travel? Attend one of the several conferences offered online. Many “virtual conferences” are available throughout the year and this option affords audiences to hear from international speakers live or recorded. Many of the conferences grant access to the talks for several weeks or months. You don’t even need to get dressed for this option. Grab a cup of coffee, stay in your PJs and earn your CEUs from your own home.
Start a savings account
Is there a conferences on your bucket list or in a destination location that you really want to visit? Maybe there is a a speaker presenting this year that you have waited your entire career to meet in person–don’t despair, prepare. Like the saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Do the math and figure out how much you must set aside weekly or monthly to attend the conference of your dreams. You can also ask friends and family to contribute in lieu of birthday or holiday gifts. Put a contribution jar on the counter and decorate it with motivational words or pictures. Skip the Starbucks and other luxuries in order to feed your jar. It will surprise you how quickly you meet your goal.
Every little bit helps. If you remember to keep all your receipts, you can claim the expenses on your tax returns annually. Don’t be shocked at the end of the year when you add up how much you spent on education. I am proud to invest in my own education, and feel it is the responsible thing to do. As I travel across the nation speaking and teaching the Certified Lactation Educator Training (CLE) to Public Health Agencies, birth professionals and breastfeeding advocates, I know I am equipped with the latest, most up-to-date evidence-based information available because I sought the best teachers and researchers to learn from.
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