In October 2012 I travelled to Delhi, India to present at two international conferences. It’s been three months since I returned, so I thought it was about time I look back on that experience and what I’ve learned, personally and professionally.
Be determined, assertive and prepared to blow your own trumpet.
I am naturally quite shy and don’t relish being the centre of attention. But having to submit an abstract, secure funding, apply for a visa, travel overseas to meet new people and present in front of hundreds of international delegates required me to be more assertive and outgoing than I usually am. It made me realise how passionate and determined I am deep down. Integral to this was the belief that my ideas and work are worthwhile and something that other people would want to hear about. For someone who sometimes struggles with self-belief, it has been a big milestone for me.
Venturing outside libraryland can be an effective marketing tool.
I’ve presented at library conferences before, and been quite active within our regional library network. But this conference was the first time I’ve presented at international conferences to delegates outside libraries or medical education. It was a totally different experience and allowed me to have conversations that I’d never normally have; I spoke to doctors from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka about what it means to be a Clinical Librarian in the UK. It was encouraging to encounter a large amount of interest in the concept of having a librarian on a ward round amongst the people that I spoke to. Since my return I’ve spoken at regional meetings about my experience in India, and had extremely positive and encouraging feedback from my employing organisation about the trip. As a result senior managers and clinicians now know more about how the library can support patient care, which is a really positive outcome. The trip did involve a certain amount of PR (photos and news items in newsletters etc.), which made me feel a little uncomfortable at times, but in terms of marketing the library service it did the job.
Preparation is more crucial than ever when presenting at an overseas conference.
I am someone who likes to be organised, so I rehearsed my presentation repeatedly before arriving in Delhi and spent many hours tweaking the presentation with my co-presenter. I also produced and filmed a short video of my work on the ward round in Critical Care which I incorporated into the presentation. Since I was also presenting a poster at a second conference in Delhi, I also had to design, print and organise funding for that too. I hadn’t really appreciated how time-consuming the preparation was going to be, and it’s certainly something I’ll be more realistic about if I ever get the opportunity again. However, it paid off and both the oral presentation and the poster went smoothly. It is true that accomplishing something like that gives you a buzz and motivation that continues long after you return to work.
Distance gives you the perfect opportunity to reflect.
I found that being away from work, but engaging in professional activities, and travelling with colleagues, afforded me some valuable time to consider my career from a distance. Usually when I’m travelling abroad I’m on holiday and trying to forget about work! This was quite a different experience; I brainstormed project ideas with my colleagues on the plane journey, discussed health information issues with senior doctors and I used hotel room time to write a reflective log. It felt at times like an intensive professional development bootcamp!
International collaboration can translate into local learning.
Even thousands of miles away from home, I picked up new ideas and learning that I am now using back at work to develop my own practice. I’ve changes my approach to several projects at work and begun to develop services in different ways as a result of knowledge and learning that I picked up while I was in India, and I feel I have a deeper understanding of evidence based practice in a global context.
I sincerely believe that presenting at a conference is a fantastic way to develop a wide range of professional skills and knowledge. To illustrate this, I’ve summarised the range of activities and skills that I feel I have developed as a result.
|Abstract submission||Abstract writing, poster design, use of film and media|
|Preparation and organisation||Negotiation, influencing, selling, writing sponsorship applications, budget management, Powerpoint, teamwork, time management|
|Conference attendance||Advocacy, communication, public speaking, promotion, networking|
|Return to work||PR, marketing, presentation, report writing, reflective writing, evidence based librarianship|
Have I missed anything? I’d be interested to hear from anyone who can suggest any more skills to this table.