Monday, October 29, 2012

17 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Herbal Conference Experience

I probably can’t call myself an herbal conference veteran, but I have been to a fair number of conferences over the years. As a result, I’ve had the chance to perfect my herbal conference experience (mainly from making all the classic mistakes).  

Herbal conferences can be amazing experiences. They offer the opportunity to download an astounding amount of varied information in a short amount of time. You can also meet herbalists from all over the country who you’ve never even heard of before. Some of my favorite people are people I’ve met at a conference. 

Herbal conferences can also be a challenging experience. From travel mishaps to strange food to bloated expectations - lots can go wrong! 

I hope the following suggestions help you to have your best conference experience! 

1. Plan ahead

I am publishing this article in the fall of the year, after most conferences are done for the year, mainly because of this point: plan ahead! Whether it is asking for time off of work, making travel arrangements or simply saving your pennies, conference plans are best done in advance.

If money is tight, most conference have early bird discounts for those who register early, also many offer volunteer positions for full or partial registration price. Most of those volunteer positions go fast! 

2. Choose which conference(s) to attend wisely

There are so many things to consider when choosing which conference to go to. People often use location as a determining factor. Definitely the closer the conference is to you the less travel expenses and the smaller your carbon footprint. It’s obviously an important consideration. 

However, don’t let location be the only determining factor. Who is presenting at the conference? Do you resonate with numerous teachers? What classes are being presented? Are there multiple classes that are of high interest to you? Consider paying a few extra hundred dollars to attend the conference that you will get the most out of (vs. the one that is closest to you).

3. Take care of yourself before the conference

The time leading up to a conference can be a little bit stressful. Preparing your work/house/family/garden for your absence, combined with travel plans, packing, etc. can leave you harried and stressed. 

Combine the added stress with the increased exposure to pathogens (from airports the conference itself) is a great recipe for susceptibility for illness whether it’s traveler’s diarrhea or an upper respiratory virus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a large gathering of people and there’s something “going around.” Take preventive steps! 

In the weeks leading up to a conference I take even better care of myself than normal. I get extra sleep (I know I am going to need it!), take adaptogens and immunomodulators and exercise every day. I take immunostimulants while in the airport and often bring elderberry potions for the duration of the conference. Note: I can’t remember the last time I got sick at a conference. 

4. Learn how to be in two places at once. 

If you haven’t heard the jokes about cloning yourself or acquiring Hermione’s device (from Harry Potter) to be in two places at once then you’ve obviously never been to an herbal conference. This joke is as prevalent as discussing the weather. As you might have guessed, this ubiquitous nature of this joke comes from the fact that, well, it’s true. 

Most class times will be fraught with the ever impossible decision of deciding which incredible class to attend. 

Some things to consider. 
Is this class relevant to your life now? One of the first conferences I ever went to had each class labeled as to whether it was beginner, intermediate or advanced. I chose to go to most of the advanced classes and most of those classes were way over my head and had little bearing on my life. Unfortunately I am a slow learner and it took me a whole weekend to figure it out! 

Who is presenting the class? Sometimes the who can be more important than the what. Remember conferences are about the experience. If there is a teacher that you have long admired that lives far away from you and you’ve never seen them live before, it may be worth it even if their class isn’t first on your “to-learn” list. Some people are simply amazing presenters or their classes are offered in a way that isn’t easy to replicate on paper. Doug Elliot’s performances are a good example of this! 

What is the class about? Do your best to figure out what the classes are about ahead of time. Consult the class notes. If possible, ask the teacher specific questions about the materials that are going to be presented to determine if the class is a good match for you. Think about your own learning goals.

No magic required, you can be in two places at once! There’s this amazing device that actually does enable you to be in two places at once. It’s called a voice recorder and it’s a good investment! Conferences can cost hundreds of dollars, not only in the ticket price but also time off of work, travel, eating out, etc. Make the most out of it by getting a  high quality voice recorder for those times you can’t decide where to be. Make sure you can get good sound quality from the recorder. I promise you will probably never listen to something that is barely intelligible and sounds like static. 

Keep in mind that technology can and will fail. So, it’s still a good idea to decide which class is a higher priority for you. 

Always ask the teacher before you record. 

See if you can enlist the help of a friend to set up the recorder for you. 

Also realize that some classes are an experience you need to be present for. 7 Steps to Cardiovascular Health is probably more amenable to taping than a flower essence meditation. 

Oftentimes John (from and I tape various presentations at conferences. Sometimes I hear people say, “well, if you are taping this one, I’ll go to another one”. Bad idea! Technology can and will fail. Also, we still have footage and audio recordings from years ago that we will get to... one day. So, always consider the recordings to be a bonus, if they work out. 

Larger conference often offer recordings of the lectures. Take advantage of this! 

5. Be social! 

This tip obviously isn’t for the extremely outgoing folks who thrive interacting with droves of people. Nope. This tip is for quiet, I-am-much-more-comfortable-speaking-with-plants-than-people-type. Get over it. Well, at least for a few days. 

Sure, we sign up for conferences mainly because of the classes, but the social interactions and connections you make can be as powerful as the classes you attend. I’ll repeat because it is that important. The social interactions and connections you make can be as powerful as the classes you attend. 

I can be rather shy in large crowds myself, so I feel for you. And I’ve been to conferences where I’ve done my best to hide and I’ve been to conferences where I did my best to meet new people. I probably don’t have to tell you which conferences are more fun. 

Sit with people at meal times. Introduce yourself to your neighbor before class. Smile. 

6. Bring extra cash

Maybe you think I am going to give you the finger waving lecture on having extra cash for unexpected travel expenses. That’s probably smart. But no. Bring extra cash because you will undoubtedly find amazing herbal treasures and specials deals at the conference and you will want, no need, them. Badly. 

7. Spread the appreciation love

It’s truly amazing all that goes into a conference. 

Teachers travel from all over to share their wisdom and experiences. Some conferences pay for the teacher’s travel expenses and offer them a teaching stipend as well. Some don’t. Besides the accumulated wisdom they share, teachers oftentimes put extra effort into that particular presentation from power point slides, to class handouts, to herbal samples, etc. If you enjoyed the class, clap hard at the end and if possible, let them know verbally that you appreciate the effort they put into being there! 

It’s easy for teachers to be in the limelight at a conference, but there are so many other people who have worked hard to pull off the event. Volunteers often work hard and they often do tasks that wouldn’t be everyone’s favorite thing. Thank them! 

Organizers of the event often spend an entire year preparing for it. Thank them! 

Sponsors of the event often donate money at a time when the organizers need it most (before ticket sales) and thus, make the event possible. Thank them! 

For whoever I left out, thank them! Spread the appreciation love. 

8. Don’t place all your expectation eggs in one basket

Years ago I was at an AHG symposium and David Winston had to suddenly cancel due to illness. I was bummed! I was really hoping to see him, and, as a matter of fact, I still haven’t seen him live. I was chatting with someone at the conference and I mentioned that David wasn’t going to make it and this person was outraged. He told me, “If I had known that I wouldn’t even have come!” and then he stormed off. Whoa! 

Sure, you may have your aspirations for the conference, but don’t go simply for one person or for one reason. It’s a package deal and you are just setting yourself up for disappointment. Enjoy the whole experience! Be open to the surprises along the way. 

9. Help make it better next year

Most (unfortunately not all) conference organizers are open to hearing suggestions on how to improve the event for next year. But they don’t know if you don’t tell them! I often hear people bitching and moaning about one thing or another which really doesn’t serve a purpose. Instead, leave kind, but constructive suggestions for the organizers on improvements you would like to see. 

10. Bring some herbal gifts

You know how you give your friends and family your amazing herbal products and six months later you find them unopened on their back shelf? That (ahem) never happens to me of course. But that might be happening to you because they just don’t know how great your crazy herb stuff really is. I love to bring little herbal goodies I’ve made to conferences to share them with the people I connect with. It’s fun! And it’s fun to see my herbal potions appreciated by people who know how awesome herbs are! 

11. Take care of yourself during the conference

Conferences can be hard. You’ve just traveled a long way, you are sitting for a long time in classes, I’ve coerced you into being far more social than you are used to, the food is strange and on and on. That’s okay! Just do what you need to do to take care of yourself. 

Miss a class time and go for a walk! Take a nap. Bring things to pamper yourself with. Don’t be overly focused on getting the “most” out of classes. It’s a whole experience and taking a nap or having some quiet time can refresh you for a more positive experience later. 

12. Call home, but make it short. 

Call home but leave most of your stories for later. Again, be present and open to the experiences of the conference. If you are spending gobs of time on the phone or emailing then you are probably missing out on meeting some great people or even some great plants. 

13. Think about your specialized food needs. Bring snacks! 

I’ve been pretty amazed at how well most conferences do at offering foods that work for a wide range of people. From vegans to paleo types to food intolerances, there is a lot to look out for. If you have a specialized diet, check out the menu ahead of time to make sure you can eat! Either way bring plenty of snacks. Worse case scenario is that you’ll bring them home with you. 

14. Try not to get hung up on what goes wrong

Travel, life out of the norm, large groups of people and high expectations offers many challenges. Get over it. Don’t let mishaps ruin your whole experience. Shrug off the bad and focus on the good. 

15. Leave class if you need to

Sure, it sucks, to get up in the middle of class and leave. But sometimes you have to. Hopefully if you have a personal health issue, you know to leave, but I also want to give you permission to leave if it is not the class for you. Is it way over your head? Too basic? Leave. Do so quietly. Enter your next class quietly. It’s amazing I even feel the need to have to say that, but after some recent experiences, apparently I do. 

16. Conferences are not necessarily a place of personal healing

I debated whether or not to include this in here. Sure, personal healing absolutely does happen at conferences. But my suggestion to you is that personal healing probably shouldn’t be your goal at a conference. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people approach teachers or herbalists at conferences to ask personal health advice. Rarely is this done in a non-intrusive way. 

If you have a chronic health problem that you need help with, hire someone for a consultation. Don’t hit them up after they’ve just talked for three hours straight to give you some free advice. 

On the other hand, if you have a chronic health problem, be open to the healing you may receive at the conference. Because yeah, that does happen. 

And obviously I am not talking about first aid or acute problems that may come up at the conference. If you need help, ask for it! Many times there is a first aid booth or an appointment first aid person who can help you. You may also find that a couple attendees brought some herbs with them... 

17. Take care of yourself after you get home

Can you tell that I am really into self-care? Honestly though, I think how well you prepare yourself before, during and after the conference has a huge impact on the whole experience. 

For example, John and I often plan an extra travel day before and after conferences. Call it a luxury, but I think this makes an enormous difference for us. The extra days on either end often mean that we don’t have to leave the conference early or arrive late due to travel hiccups. We don’t have to stress about hurrying. 

If you can, ease back into work and home life slowly after you get home. If you get home on Sunday, take Monday off. Take time to absorb your experience. Oftentimes conferences are life changing events. Honor that. 

More ideas? 

Certainly there must be a few more conference going tips out there! Please share them in the comments.