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AOTA 2018 Conference Round-up (Plus Tips for Next Year!)

Attending AOTA’s 2018 Conference in Salt Lake City for my second-ever conference was a blast. It flew by and I can’t believe it’s already over. I’m already super excited for next year’s Conference in New Orleans 2019… whoo!

After two years of “Conference-ing” I decided it was time to write a round up of AOTA Conference tips that I took away from this (and last) year’s Conference to share with you if you’ve never been.

You can use these tips for the AOTA Conference in 2019, and any future AOTA Conferences as well!

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1. AOTA Conference might be the most fun you can have as an occupational therapist.

As a practicing occupational therapist, I had no idea how much the energy of being around thousands of other OTs would help rejuvenate me. I heard there were 14,000 OTs and students for the Centennial in 2017!

Being around so many other OTs and students that not only know what I do for a living but do the same thing AND have a passion for it is more fun than I can describe. You really have to experience it yourself to see what I mean, and I highly recommend it.

I have so much fun with it that my goal is to go every year, and I’ve re-met so many other OTs at this Conference that do the same.

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2. Plan your time ahead of time with the Conference App.

The app has all of the courses listed each day and you can just add them to your schedule in the app. It’s a great way to organize topics you’re most interested in and help you get the most out of the CEUs offered. You can also track your courses more easily when you get home by having them bookmarked on the app.

3. Realize that even with the app, your schedule may not go according to plan.

And that’s okay! You will meet and run into so many different people, so if you can’t get to all of your courses, don’t stress.

I wasn’t able to make it to all of the courses I had bookmarked due to either being wiped out or having social activities pop up. In order to make up for it, I actually watched two MedBridge continuing ed courses on TBI cognition and stroke upper extremity intervention while at Conference.

To see why I recommend MedBridge and get a special discount of $175 off, be sure to check out my full overview on why it’s my favorite continuing ed program here.

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4. Don’t miss the Welcome Ceremony.

The Welcome Ceremony, held on Thursday of the Conference, is one of the most inspiring and motivating things you can see as an OT. You’ll get to hear from AOTA’s President and get to know other AOTA representatives followed by an always-amazing keynote address.

This year’s keynote speaker was Nyle DiMarco, a hugely inspiring advocate for the deaf community. He is making huge waves by bringing awareness to the deaf culture through his success in the entertainment industry. For more on Nyle, be sure to check out his foundation, the Nyle DiMarco Foundation.

After the Welcome Ceremony, the Expo opens up right after with free snacks and drinks for purchase. It’s a great place to get your networking started.

5. Know that you can always be networking!

Along with the multiple free events, like the Special Interest Section event on Wednesday, the Welcome Ceremony “after-party” at the Expo Opening (this is another must!), and the free Friday Night Live party, you’ll find that networking can happen any time at conference.

Even walking to courses, it’s so easy to meet people in all settings and disciplines. At each conference, I’ve made friends that I’ve kept in touch with. This can happen any time, even while waiting in line getting a sandwich 🙂

Speaking of networking, I like to bring my own business cards to hand out to people I talk to. This is easier and more professional than just relying on adding my number to someone’s phone or trying to find them on social media. In my experience, VistaPrint has been the best for making low cost and attractive cards.

6. Go to the Expo more than once if you can.

I only went once during my first Conference (on the last day of it!) having no idea how much there was to it. It’s amazing how many occupational therapy products, brands, schools, and contests there are.

The expo can be very over-stimulating at first. Give yourself a second day to go after you’ve adjusted to the craziness. This makes it easier to approach any booth that you’re interested in. You might also get to meet some of your favorite occupational therapists like author Cheryl Hall, creator and author of the OT Toolkit!

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7. Speaking of the Expo, leave extra room in your suitcase for Expo swag.

You can easily accumulate endless free swag from the vendors, so leave room in your bag and be choosy of what you take! This year I made an effort to keep my bags light and only take small things that I would actually use (except for a bright orange towel from ShowerBuddy that I thought was fun).

This made packing a lot easier than last year when I realized by the end I had waaay too many things in my AOTA tote bag.

8. Don’t miss the poster presentations.

I loved the poster presentations, which are organized really well by settings and topics. The posters showcase current occupational therapy research and have the researchers there to discuss their research in person and answer any questions. I also found that I was able to take in SO much information in a short amount of time compared to one 90 minute short course on one topic. (Not to dismiss the short courses, those are also really important to attend!)

9. Plan a get-together beforehand.

My friend, Mandy Chamberlain, and I decided to organize a meet-up at a local brewery that Saturday night since there weren’t any other free AOTA events going on that night.

It made life so much easier to have a dedicated hangout to invite your conference friends to, rather than trying to set up 10 different hangouts at different times.

Your school might have Alumni events on Saturday. But if not, Saturday night is a fun night to plan a meetup and celebrate the last full day of conference. Trust me – it will really reduce your stress levels having a dedicated time and place before you go!

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10. Give yourself rest breaks as needed.

Just like we teach our patients, energy conservation is really important to utilize during the conference. Even though you’re off work, it can be just as fatiguing with all of the courses, events, networking, and city exploring!

Don’t feel bad about going back to your hotel or Airbnb for a mid-day nap or rest break. I found this so helpful to be able to handle going to the night-time events.

11. If you can, try to get in Wednesday during the day.

You will not only have more energy to attend more classes on Thursday, but you’ll also be able to go to the Special Interest Section free networking reception on Wednesday night. I regret not getting in early this year, which made Thursday a lot harder since I was so wiped out from getting in really late on Wednesday night.

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These are my personal AOTA conference tips that I’ve taken away from this year’s Conference, but I’d love to hear yours as well. Please share any tips or tricks you’d also recommend when attending, and I hope to see you next year!

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2 comments

  • Kimberly Kearney April 25, 2018   Reply →

    What a great list! I have been to 5 conferences now and it seems like I still have a hard time managing my time – so much to do and nowhere near enough time to get to it all. I learned to chill this year and had a lot more fun once I realized I don’t need to get tons of CEUs because I already have a ton! I really enjoyed the meet up you organized and hope you will continue with them every year – I can only see it getting bigger. I loved the blogger/podcaster angle of the group. Lots of OT innovators out there too. Again, thanks for the IRL meet up !!!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L April 25, 2018   Reply →

      Thanks, Kimberly! It was awesome meeting you and we will definitely do it again next year. We learned for next time that we’re definitely just going to rent out a whole place to avoid the busy dinner rush and bar crowds. And I completely agree that doing less courses and to not stress about them REALLY helps with having energy to do the fun things too. Looking forward to seeing you next year!

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