Navigate Your First Nursing Conference Like a Pro

by | Jun 8, 2021 | Professional Development for Nurses | 0 comments

In my mere 5 years as a nurse, I’ve been to 6 national nursing conferences (NTI, Magnet, AONE, and the National Nursing Symposium). And I love them. You get to learn about what some of the most successful people across the country are doing in their units, you get invigorated and inspired, and you begin to understand what our profession as a whole is going through.

I’ve developed some of my do’s and don’ts of nursing conferences, in hopes that it will help you navigate your first nursing conference like a pro!

Navigate Your First Nursing Conference Like a Pro

First Nursing Conference

If you’re attending your first nursing conference, it might be a bit overwhelming. But if you’ll follow these tips, you’ll feel more at easy and be able to enjoy yourself!

Plan ahead for your concurrent sessions

Many times there are large group sessions and break-out sessions (also called concurrent sessions), and you get to choose which ones you want to attend. If they have the schedule online beforehand, plan your day before arriving. Otherwise, you’ll be scrambling to figure out which ones you want to go, which can be a headache last minute. You may miss awesome sessions if you don’t manage your time well.  Additionally, have a back up session nearby in mind, for reasons I’ll discuss later.

What to wear to a nursing conference

First thing is first: Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes.

Nursing conferences mean lots of walking. Seriously.  So much walking.  Wear business casual attire, not scrubs, and try to find some comfortable appropriate shoes. Wearing the wrong shoes can make you absolutely miserable, so put in some time when considering your shoe selection!

Tieks are my favorite conference shoes.  They are expensive, but so worth it to me.  I wear mine for all business casual events.  I can walk for miles in them and still look fly.

Be selective about what you take from exhibitors and who scans your badge

While at the conference you’re required to wear a badge, which has a barcode on it. A lot of exhibitors sponsor giveaways, and the way you enter is by letting them scan your badge. That gives them your contact info if you happen to win. While that’s great, they also have your contact info to now email you and mail you things. Ugh.

The same applies to freebies (pens, water bottles, more pens..). All of the exhibitors typically have something small with their logo on it to giveaway. I always am selective about what I take with me because it’s another thing to carry around and/or dispose of. Unless I plan on purchasing an item or want to learn more about the company or school, I decline when they want to give me information.

Bring a large and easy to carry bag

Bring your own bag that you’re comfortable carrying the entire time. Don’t count on vendors in the expo hall to be handing out a bag. Plus, do you really want to carry around a giant advertisement for Petunias Peri Care?

However, you will need to carry things throughout the day.

You’ll get some freebies, potentially purchase things from the bookstore, and will need to carry around various papers and things that you’ll need during the day. They typically give you a bag when you register upon arrival, but it’s nothing like a real over-the-shoulder bag or a padded backpack from home. Bring a good, lightweight bag that you’re comfortable carrying around literally all day.

Don’t forget to stock your bag!

Things I recommend to keep in your bag include; a water bottle, hand sanitizer, a pen, quick snacks, a phone charger, a bit of cash, something take notes on, a map of the convention center/local area, gum, and a folder for papers.

Do pay attention to the social media scene

You really get a much bigger picture of the conference when you are plugged in on social media. I find Twitter to have the best participation and engagement. All conferences have a conference hashtag, For example, when I went to NTI next month in San Diego, I already knew the hashtag was #NTI2015. People tweet quotes, insider info, pictures, and even about giveaways on social media. Therefore, when you go to the respective social media outlet, you can search the hashtag and get plugged in immediately.  Twitter and Instagram are wonderful resources for conferences.

Don’t be afraid to leave a session

Don’t stay in the concurrent session if it’s not what you thought it would be.

I plan my sessions before I get to the conference, and a few times I’ve gone to sessions that I thought were going to be about something totally different when I read the title. If within the first 5 minutes you realize this is not going to be helpful to you and your career, quickly go to a different session. These conferences are way too valuable to waste 1-2 hours in a session that’s not going to benefit you. This is why I have a nearby backup session in mind. This is also helpful if you get to your selected session and it’s full.

Network! Network! Network!

Networking isn’t just for nurses in business – it’s for every single nurse and nursing student out there!  People land jobs because of networking, not just through having a good resume… and these conferences are GOLD MINES for networking.  Do this on social media with the conference tags, in sessions, and at social events.  Have a business card ready to hand out and your up-to-date resume handy or on your computer, just in case you run into someone who may be able to connect you to an amazing opportunity.  You never know who you’ll meet.  I love to use Staff Garden to keep my resume up to date as well as stay on top of all of the latest job openings.  Click here to create your e-portfolio for free. You can keep it updated constantly and just print or one whenever you need it.

Other Nursing Conference Questions

Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.