I felt overwhelmed and anxious as I hit the submit button to register for my first-ever ASHA Convention. A newly minted school-based speech-language pathologist, I registered with two main goals for this convention: gathering as many CEUs as possible and networking. But how in the world should I plan for an event with more than 16,000 communication sciences and disorders professional in one place? So my advice to fellow “new SLPs” is to do just that … make a plan!
Before I even began the daunting task of picking out sessions, I thought about my caseload. What specific subject areas did I know little about—augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) or stuttering, for example? And on what topics did I want to gain even more knowledge? Once I narrowed down my interests, I started mapping out sessions. I found the program planner—online or through the app—helpful for viewing all available sessions and times. (Note that some sessions last two hours while others are only one.)
When in the program planner, I could search sessions by topic, day, session type, level of instruction and more. I found it easiest to search by day and topic. Once the never-ending list of options loaded, I chose two or three sessions for each time slot. I am so glad I did this, because when I got to the convention, some of the sessions I chose were withdrawn! Taking the time to read session descriptions allowed me to make tough choices. Many titles were enticing, but descriptions helped me make sure the content fit with what I wanted to learn.
I then turned my chicken-scratch written schedule into a Google document for easier organization and referencing from any device or printed copy. I listed the session code—which I needed to log my CEUs—time, session title and room number. About a week before the convention, I went back into the program planner, entered the session code and printed out any uploaded handouts for the sessions I planned to attend. Some presenters may not upload the handout until after their presentation, so bring a notebook or folder!
The day for convention finally arrived and I was considerably less nervous with my detailed plan in place. When I checked in, I received the program planner book and a map of the building. Looking over the map and highlighting the rooms I needed to find for the next three days gave me a sense of where I was going, so I didn’t wonder aimlessly. With more than 16,000 people navigating their way through the convention, it was still easy to get lost! I allowed plenty of time to get to each room and find a good seat! During longer breaks, I visited the exhibit hall, networked and attended poster sessions—helping me gain more CEUs.
The 2016 ASHA Convention was an amazing but overwhelming experience for this new SLP, but it was definitely worth going. Making a plan helped ease some of my nerves—even if I deviated from it occasionally. I also didn’t put pressure on myself to attend a session for every time slot. Skipping a session here and there gave me the time to connect with other SLPs, make friends and … most importantly … have fun!