“Attending a Professional Meeting like a Professional”
Some Pointers about Attending
ADA’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Exhibition (FNCE)
Courtesy of Dr. Deborah Canter, Kansas State University
All students are encouraged to attend the FNCE meeting as many times as you can
during your time as a student. Nothing gives you the “big picture” of dietetics
practice like going to a national conference! It is a wonderful opportunity and
you’ll never attend cheaper than you can as a student. Also you can take your
resume along and use the conference as a time to job-search and even interview
for positions after graduation!
Conferences are expensive to attend. Ensure that the benefits outweigh the costs by
beginning to prepare well in advance of the event. Write down the expected outcomes in
priority order and plan to follow through with them. This exercise will organize your
Brush up on your knowledge of the conference locale. Review the historic, geographic,
economic and social aspects of the state and region. Virtually everything outside the lecture
halls, and many things within, may reflect the flavor of the area. Plan to take advantage of
the local resources. Try to schedule time to visit local places of interest, do some shopping,
sightseeing, and dining out.
Business cards provide a way to remember people you have met only briefly, and they help
others remember you. Be sure to have an ample supply. Do your cards present the image
your wish to project? If not, or if you don’t have any, have some printed to give to people
you meet, to speakers who promise copies of their presentations or other information, or to
other people with whom you network. Even as a student, you can have inexpensive “calling
card” printed up with your name, address, phone and e-mail. The investment in the cards
is tiny compared to the return they give. A quick source of inexpensive business or calling
cards is http://www.vistaprint.com. Be sure to allow enough lead-time to get your cards
printed and back to you before conference time.
Have your business cards with you and easily accessible at all times. Don’t be shy about
giving your business or calling cards to people you meet . And, don’t hesitate to ask
someone if they have a business card they can give you. When they do, turn the card over
and jot a note to yourself on the back of the card as to where you met the person or some
other tidbit of information that will jog your memory when you get back home with a whole
handful of cards! Keep those business cards you have collected in some organized fashion.
Business supply stores sell plastic business card holder sheets that fit into 3-ring binders.
Each page holds 10 business cards on each side. This is a great way to keep track of cards
and keep them organized. Or if you’re a REALLY organized person, you can scan or punch
in the info on the card into your Palm Pilot or other electronic planner.
Attend with a Purpose
Every conference offers opportunities for personal and professional gain. Plan to do
something (anything) that will have a special, additional or lasting benefit for you. Your
personal goal might be gathering information for a professional article or class project/
assignment. Or, you might have a goal of meeting people and establishing a network in an
area of interest. In order to be useful, the project must be 100% yours since commitment
to such a project will survive the hubbub and confusion of the conference.
Many of us find the conference more fulfilling if we are involved in producing it rather than
simply attending. Three levels of participation are open to you. First, if you are not a
member of the sponsoring organization, you can join. Try to learn something about the
organization before attending the conference.
Second, you can volunteer to work at the event. This is particularly true for local or state
meetings. Conferences are “volunteer-hungry.” You can become involved well in advance
by serving on the committees and sub-committees that shape the conference. Participation
in the work of the conference is one way to become caught up in the excitement of the
event. Along the way, you can learn about individual and organizational dynamics, working
with volunteers, and meeting/event planning.
Third, you can give a presentation. Every conference planner expends considerable effort to
attract good session presenters, and he or she wants new faces. Usually, you must follow a
specific proposal process and submit the proposal well in advance. (The deadline to submit
a proposal to ADA for a presentation or poster session at FNCE is often in March or April for
an October meeting! Watch the ADA Journal for the “call for abstracts” early each year.)
Preparing a proposal will help you organize your ideas even if your session isn’t selected for
inclusion in the final program.
There may also be other opportunities to present at a conference. Subgroups such as
dietetic practice groups or special interest groups sponsor sessions at the national meeting
as well. Some conferences may allow you to place a notice on the “special events program”
of the meeting to invite others to meet with you and discuss issues or listen to your
presentation on a topic.
Using Pre-Conference Materials
Attendees at almost every conference can plan their schedules and activities in advance.
Begin your assessment with the simplest information, the conference size. Local and
regional conferences may not offer the same opportunities as a national meeting, but with
proper planning you can take advantage of any size gathering.
What is the conference theme? Sessions probably have been selected to reflect the theme.
Use the pre-conference materials that are published, mailed to you, or which are provided
online to make basic decisions about your conference activities. Tentatively select the
sessions of greatest potential value to you, and make several alternate choices, assigning
them priority ranking. Unforeseen events may cause sessions to be cancelled or
rescheduled at the last moment. An alternate selection will be invaluable if you arrive at
your first session and find that it has been moved to another day, or that the room is too
full for you to be admitted.
You may want to consider selecting subject areas with which you are unfamiliar. This will
help you avoid the common disappointment of discovering that the session you have chosen
is too basic for you.
You will be better prepared to learn if you read in the areas of the sessions you have
selected ahead of time. Preparation sharpens your grasp of the issues. You might even
want to contact the speaker before the conference to find out whether the session is
correctly focused for you and to establish a personal relationship.
You should know or find out what your employer’s or your instructor’s expectations are for
your attendance. It is important to know them, whether they are great or nonexistent, and
whether or not you are being sponsored by the organization. Check with your manager or
co-workers who may be rich sources of information about the organization sponsoring the
conference, the location, the exhibits and sessions that are likely to be useful to you. You
might also be expected to give a report to your colleagues back home upon your return
from the meeting. Also find out if your colleagues would like for you to pick up information
for them from the exhibits, speakers, etc.
Pre- or Post-Conference Meetings
Some conferences have meetings/sessions that occur before or after the formal meeting
itself. These events may have separate registration and fee requirements, and are held in
conjunction with the primary conference for convenience of the attendees. There also may
be events such as tours of the locale, visits to tourist sites, tours of well-known
organizations or facilities in the area, or other pre-or post-conference meeting activities. If
you can afford the time and extra expense, these events are often outstanding opportunities
to network or just have fun. The ADA Student Council always puts on an outstanding
Student Forum free of charge.
At the ADA FNCE meeting, the national House of Delegates meets prior to the opening of
the conference itself. If you can go a bit early, this is a wonderful time for you to sit in and
“audit” some of the House of Delegates meeting to see how the business of the ADA is
conducted, to hear debates on “hot topics” and see/hear some of the leaders of the
When you arrive at the conference, if you find that the name on your badge is incorrect,
modify the badge to display the information you want. At some conferences, the name
badges are computer-generated. If yours is incorrect, tell the person who is checking you
in at the registration area, and they will have a new badge printed up for you on the spot.
Remember that you must wear your badge at all times to be admitted to sessions and to
the exhibits, so don’t misplace your badge! (However, when you leave the conference and
head back to your hotel, take off your badge and keep it in a safe place! Nothing marks you
as a “visitor” like wearing your conference badge when you’re out shopping, dining, etc.
This may make you an “easy mark” for persons who may not have your best interests at
Another big thing at national meetings is the use of ribbons or badges to denote individuals
who are officers in the association, speakers during the meeting, members of special
subgroups, donors to the Foundation, etc. Some people may be walking around with a
whole string of ribbons attached to their nametags. (This is sort of a “status symbol” in the
eyes of some!) It may be a way to spot “who’s who” at the meeting or recognize people
who are leaders or being honored in some special way during the conference events.
Upon registration at the convention center, you will receive your official program book. This
book lists every event with its date, time, location, speaker information, program
description, etc. As soon as you get your book, spend some time at your hotel that night
looking it over, deciding which sessions you want to attend, etc. The book also contains
information such as a listing of officers of the association, names and photos of people
receiving awards, a listing of all exhibitors and where their booths are located on the exhibit
floor, a list of all speakers at the meeting, etc.
In the registration area of the convention center, there are a couple of things to be aware
of. There is always a “communications area” where you can have computer access to check
your e-mail or leave messages for other people attending the conference. Typically there
are computer monitors that scroll a listing of the names of people who have a message
waiting for them. It is important to check the message monitors periodically and a good
way for you to keep in touch with other members of your travel group or people you may
meet at the meeting.
Another feature is a special events announcement board or monitor. During the conference,
many subgroups such as special interest groups, universities, dietetic internships, have
reunions, breakfasts, receptions, etc. These events are advertised or posted according to
the day of the week the event is scheduled. The notice will tell when and where the event is
being held, who can attend, whether there is a cost associated with the event, etc.
The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau of the host city often provides information about
dining, tours, and sightseeing in the area. Often there is a booth in the registration area
where you can pick up information, make dinner reservations, buy tickets for sightseeing,
Also, on the final day of the conference, there is often a location in the convention center
where you may check your luggage if you don’t have time to go back to your hotel to
retrieve it before leaving for the airport.
The major sin of conference presenters is “false swearing.” Presenters have promised to
speak about the topic listed in the program, but since the topic may have been determined
nearly a year before, the presenter’s interest may have shifted. Perhaps the speaker’s idea
of a topic never coincided with yours. For whatever reason, sessions may not always be
what you expected.
At the ADA FNCE, sessions are rated according to the level of the material presented and
this rating will be found in the program booklet. A “Level 1” presentation is basic
information while a “Level 3” presentation is advanced. Pay attention to these ratings and
select sessions where you can learn new material. If you are uncertain about whether you
want to attend an entire session, try to sit near the aisle or near the back and slip out
quietly if the session is not meeting your needs or expectations. Know where your second
choice session is being conducted and try to slip in to that session quietly.
Be an active participant and a proactive listener. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the
presenter if something isn’t clear. Listen actively. Remember, you CAN usually ask
questions. Almost every session presenter allows them unless the session is a huge, all-
attendee type of event. You will probably have to walk up to a microphone near your seat,
or you might be asked to write your question(s) on a slip of paper which is passed to a
volunteer who will take the questions up to the speaker at the podium. Also, if you are
having problems hearing or seeing the speaker, let someone know. There are always
audio-visual personnel on hand (usually at the back of the room) who can help make
adjustments. If the problems are unavoidable, such as external noise, make a special effort
to listen harder.
If two sessions of interest to you are scheduled for the same time period, you might want to
try to attend your first choice session with the idea of deciding within the first five minutes
whether to stay. Or you may share notes with a friend who is attending the other session.
Also MANY of the sessions are professionally recorded with audiotapes on sale during or
after the meeting. If a session is being taped, this will be indicated in the program book.
You can fill out an order blank, pay for the tape(s), and the material will be shipped to you
after the meeting is over. The prices are very reasonable and you can add to your
professional knowledge by purchasing tapes of sessions that you might not have been able
to attend. The tape recording company usually has its booth in the convention center
registration area. This is a great way to share the meeting with colleagues back home that
were not able to attend. Your work organization or local dietetics association might even be
interested in having you purchase tapes for you to bring home and share with others as
Feel free to approach the speaker in person after a session is over if time permits. You may
have to wait in line while several people meet and talk with the speaker, but it is a great
time to collect business cards and network! Don’t be afraid to approach the speakers after
sessions or when they are not obviously busy. Most will be cordial to a fellow professional
or student who is considerate of their time. Don’t be surprised if this person remembers
you if you meet again!
For some attendees, the exhibits are the principal attraction of the conference, but this can
be bewildering if you are not prepared. Determine the categories of products/services that
interest you by referring to the program booklet and checking off the booths you would like
to visit. There is a listing of exhibitors as well as a map that shows the layout of the
exhibition hall in the back of the program book. Highlight the exhibits you want to be sure
to visit. Then use your map to go straight to the booths you have identified. At a major
conference like ADA or the National Restaurant Association show, there are hundreds of
exhibitors and you probably won’t have time to investigate them all.
When you register, you may be given what is called a “recorder card” along with your name
badge and holder. This is a plastic card with your name and mailing address on it. A good
place to keep this card is behind your name tag in your plastic badge holder. When you go
through the exhibits, you can hand this card to the exhibitors and they “run it” like a credit
card to capture your name and address. Thus, the exhibitors can mail literature and other
materials to you after the conference rather than you having to pick up this material, lug it
around with you and then figure out how to get everything in your suitcase for the trip
home. For some things you see in the exhibits, you have to actually take the material or
sample with you at the time. But don’t weigh yourself down with loads of things to carry
home in your suitcase or carry-on bag! And with the heightened security with the airline
industry today, be sure you don’t forget and put something in your carry-on bag that may
be misconstrued as a weapon!
If for some reason you lose your recorder card, you can obtain another one at the
Some vendors and exhibitors may actually sell items on the floor of the exhibit hall, so you
may want to have a credit card available for purchase of items. Some may accept personal
checks with proper identification.
The ADA also sponsors an area in the convention center called The Book Mart. This is a
shopping area where you can buy ADA publications, educational materials, National
Nutrition Month materials, mugs, business card holders, post-notes, magnets, posters, you
name it! Often there are discounts for purchasing items at the FNCE rather than through
the ADA catalog. The Book Mart accepts, Visa, MasterCard and personal checks.
On one day of the meeting (check the program booklet), there is also a Member Product
MarketPlace. This is a separate exhibit of products which have been developed by RDs who
are in business for themselves. This area may include educational materials, T-shirts,
jewelry, videos or CDs, etc. This is a fun area to visit and from which to make purchases to
support fellow RDs who are entrepreneurs.
Other Conference Activities
A national conference is a whirlpool of activity. No one can take it all in, but don’t miss the
opportunity to exchange ideas with others and extend your knowledge. Always make an
effort to strike up a conversation with someone you may be sitting by before a presentation
begins or when you are on the shuttle bus from your hotel to the convention center or vice
versa. Make the most of coffee breaks, banquets, tours, lunches and the moving about that
is part of a conference. It is amazing the people you can meet, not only from all parts of
the United States, but from all over the world!
There are always LOTS of things going on in the evening hours as well. Some organizations
sponsor parties, get-togethers, receptions, etc. These events may be by invitation-only
(and sometimes you can snare an invitation when you are networking at the meeting) or
some events are open to all. Check the FNCE conference materials which are sent out prior
to the meeting. There may be a dietetic-practice group (DPG) event or other activity that
will appeal to you and you may need to pay an additional fee or pre-register for the event.
There is also typically a DPG showcase where you can interact with various members of the
groups and find one that you may identify most with. DPG’s are an outstanding member
benefit and can get you involved with a close-knit group who share similar interests. Many
of these groups offer discounted student memberships.
There are also some special events, like the day-long Student Forum, planned for dietetic
students / interns who are attending the FNCE meeting. Often the ADA President and other
members of the ADA Board of Directors and other dignitaries attend these events. Special
speakers and networking opportunities which would appeal to aspiring RDs are featured.
This is a great opportunity for you to meet other students and interns from around the U.S.
Also there is an opportunity for students to check out dietetics education programs/
internships, pick up material, ask questions, etc. at the Student Recruitment Fair. Check
your pre-conference materials and program book for dates, times, and locations. Don’t
forget to check out the Lounge for New Professionals and the Center for Career
Some Other Common Sense Things to Remember
Traveling to a major city to a national meeting like ADA’s Food & Nutrition Conference and
Exhibition may be a new experience for some of you. Keep the following tips in mind:
1. If you’re not already a student member of ADA, join now! One of the benefits of
being a member of ADA is that you can register for FNCE and its events at a
reduced “members only” rate. It takes awhile for membership applications to be
processed, so if you aren’t an ADA member now, join ASAP so you aren’t trying to
join at the last minute in order to get reduced registration rates. You may join ADA
online at http://www.eatright.org/Public/index_11598.cfm. It not only gives you
reduced registration rates at FNCE, but makes you a member of your state dietetic
association, gets you your own copy of the Journal of the American Dietetic
Association, allows you members-only rates on ADA publications, and many other
2. Plan early! Start early to check airfares to the conference city. Online travel sites
like http://www.orbitz.com, http://www.expedia.com, or http://www.sidestep.com
are good places to compare fares and try to get the best travel rates.
3. Online registration for the meeting usually is available on the ADA website at
http://www.eatright.org in June before the meeting in October. You may register
for the meeting online if you are a student member of ADA. If you aren’t an ADA
member, then you must print off the online registration form, get verification from
your program director that you are a student, and then mail things in via “snail
4. You may also make hotel reservations online from ADA’s website. For each FNCE
meeting, ADA designates certain hotels in the host city and they negotiate special
room rates for FNCE attendees. A variety of price ranges are included from
moderately priced hotels to the more costly “headquarters hotels” where ADA
officers and dignitaries typically stay (and where some meetings like the pre-
conference House of Delegates meeting may be held).
Of course, you may go online and make your own hotel reservations at other
properties not on the ADA listing of hotels. However, you need to keep one thing in
mind. During the meeting, ADA makes arrangements for shuttle buses to run
between the convention center and their participating hotels. This is a great
convenience, especially if you are staying at a hotel that is not in walking distance
from the convention center. If you opt to make your own reservations at some other
hotel NOT on ADA’s list, you won’t have easy access to the shuttle bus system.
Hotels are used to having people share rooms and typically 4 people are the
maximum number allowed. So don’t play “stuff the hotel room” with more than 4
people in order to try to save money! Not only is this inconvenient and crowded, but
it may be hazardous in an emergency situation. Start planning early, find
roommates to share expenses with, and make your hotel reservations at moderately
priced properties on the ADA hotel list. You’ll never attend FNCE cheaper than you
will as a student
5. When you check in to your hotel, ask the front desk person to set up separate
portfolios for each person in the room. That way it will be much easier when check-
out time rolls around and you are trying to decide who owes what. Also remember
that phone calls made from the room typically end up on the bill of the first person
who checked into that room. If you make phone calls from your room phone, make
sure that each person keeps track of who they called and when so it can be divided
up fairly at checkout time. It’s even smarter to use your own cell phone or pay
phones in the lobby of the hotel and use a telephone calling card. Most hotels add a
surcharge to every call made from the room phone (except for calls within the hotel
itself) and this charge occurs whether the party you are calling answers or not!
6. Keep your hotel roommates informed as to your plans for the day and evening. If
those plans change, call the hotel and leave a voice-mail message for your
roommates so they will not worry about you and so they’ll know when to expect
7. When you are in the hotel room for the night, be sure and put the deadbolt or chain
lock on the door, even if some of your roommates are not yet in. It is better to
have to get up and let them in than to run the risk of someone breaking into your
room while you are asleep (this doesn’t happen often, but it HAS happened to one
of our KSU student meeting attendees in the past!) Don’t leave valuables in your
hotel room, or if you do, put them out of sight in a dresser drawer or in your
8. Areas around your hotel or the downtown of the city may be relatively safe to walk
around at night, but use COMMON SENSE. If you are going out in the evening,
consider going places as a group or at least in pairs. Stay on main thoroughfares
and avoid side streets, alley ways, etc.
9. For women, carry a purse or handbag that has a zipper closure and a shoulder strap
or use a “fanny pack”. Wear the purse across your body rather than just hanging
the bag on your shoulder. A zipper-type closing is more difficult for a pick-pocket to
get into without your knowledge. If you have a purse with a flap-type closure, keep
the flag next to your body.
10. Getting around many cities by taxicab is the most logical way to travel, although
using city buses, subways, or elevated trains are also options. If you opt for public
transportation, check with your hotel concierge or the local travel authority to get
route maps to aid you in getting to your desired destination. Make sure you know
the address and phone number of the location you want to go and write these
down. Share cabs as much as possible to reduce costs. And remember to tip the
cab driver just as you would a waiter/waitress, bellman at the hotel, etc.
11. Be dressed comfortably but professionally. Wear comfortable shoes! Nothing is
worse at a convention than to have sore feet from ill-fitting shoes. Be sure to take
comfortable flats as you will be doing LOTS of walking. Ahead of time, check the
weather channel or online weather information source for a forecast of the city
where the meeting is being held so you can have an idea of proper clothing to bring,
whether you’ll need a sweater or coat, etc. If you are sightseeing or doing casual
shopping during the convention, then wear jeans or really dressed-down clothes is
acceptable. However, when you are at the convention center and attending
education sessions, touring the exhibits, etc., dress professionally (business casual).
12. Don’t take lots of cash. Bring a minimum number of credit cards that you expect to
use and leave the others at home (such as gasoline cards, local department store
cards, etc). Use travelers’ checks purchased from your bank or credit union rather
than carrying a large amount of cash. Take everything out of your purse except the
bare essentials of what you’ll need during the convention. Should your purse or
billfold be stolen, don’t risk losing everything. Have the phone numbers of your
credit card companies, credit card protection agencies, and your bank phone
number in your suitcase in case you need to contact those institutions. Keep the
receipt and numbers of your travelers’ checks in your suitcase or somewhere else
besides your purse.
13. Have a supply of $1 bills on hand to use for tipping. If you’ve ever traveled to a
major metropolitan area, you will know what I mean! You are expected to tip just
about everyone from cab drivers, skycaps or porters at the airport, bellmen at the
hotel, waiters/waitresses, the doorman who hails a cab for you, etc. For example,
the “going rate” for tipping the bellman taking bags to your hotel room for you is $1
14. If you are bringing your cell phone along with you, remember to bring your phone
charger too, or your phone battery may run down before you get back home!
15. Keep an expense record of what you spend from the time you leave home until you
return. This includes everything from mileage from your home to the airport and
return, tolls, cab fares, meals, tips, educational purchases, hotel expenses, etc.
This is a good habit to get into as you will need such records if you are ever in the
situation to be reimbursed for your expenses or if you wish to claim any
“educational expenses” on your taxes. Be sure and keep receipts for EVERYTHING.
Even cab drivers can give you a receipt, so don’t be shy about asking for one.
Going to a professional meeting, whether it is at the local, state or national level, is an
exciting and worthwhile experience and is one that you will hopefully experience many
times during your professional career. Using common sense and planning ahead will make
the experience even more enjoyable and productive. BE CAREFUL, HAVE FUN, AND LEARN