One of the challenges of attending a conference with more than 1100 high-quality presentations in approximately 28 hours of conference time is to figure out how to maximize learning and minimize fatigue. Last year, I wrote a piece about minimizing fatigue and maintaining sanity at these meetings. This year, knowing that many readers likely followed my advice, I want to offer suggestions on how to maximize learning. Essentially, what is needed is a strategy. Here are a few “tried and true” strategies to consider:
1. The “plenary plus” strategy. Start the day at 8:30 am, listen to 2 plenary talks each day, and then figure out how to spend the rest of the day. This is the most comprehensive and ambitious strategy, and the one that allows for the greatest flexibility and least amount of planning. Get a good night of sleep, awaken early, have breakfast, and plan out your day.
2. The “poster plus” strategy. Approximately 80% of the presentations are in poster format, and the posters are displayed for the entire duration of the conference. Consequently, this strategy is the one that gives you the greatest chance of seeing every new development in the field. Even though the poster presenters are in front of the posters for only an hour or so in the afternoon, learning efficiency is maximized by spending time at the posters of greatest interest. This strategy also has the advantage of allowing for the occasional late night of partying, since there is no need to get up early to do anything. However, starting the day by, say, 10 am should give you plenty of time to view the posters when no one else is around.
3. The “oral presentation only” strategy. Oral presentations are harder to get accepted, so the quality (and importance) of the data should, logically, be better. The problem is that each oral presentation typically lasts for 15 minutes. If the same data were presented in poster format, it would take the average viewer about 3 minutes to get the same amount of information from the presentation. In other words, oral presentations are about 5 times less efficient at conveying information. However, the 5 minutes of questioning following each 10-minute presentation are often very informative. In addition, since oral presentations at CROI break for 1.5 hours in the middle of the afternoon, it will give you a chance to return to your hotel, take a nap, and come back refreshed for the last oral sessions of the day.
4. The “mix and match” strategy. The name speaks for itself. Most attendees employ some variation of this strategy, including planning out each day the night before. One big advantage of this strategy is that it enhances learning by varying the format of the presentation (poster versus oral versus “themed discussion”). Just when you think you can’t survive another presenter’s monotone, and especially if you feel yourself “nodding off,” get up and visit the posters.
5. The “browse the thumb drive” strategy. Find the presentations that interest you, circle them, and plan your day accordingly. There are even apps that help with this task. Unfortunately, few of us are as organized as this strategy demands. Nevertheless, if you find yourself with nothing to do, or if you are trying to relax before going to bed for the night, browsing the thumb drive is guaranteed to induce sleep quickly and efficiently.
6. The “sleep late, rely on colleagues” strategy. You may miss the early morning sessions, but your colleagues will tell you the night before which presentations are likely to be well-worth your time. You decide if you really need to set your alarm clock.
In summary, it was another great CROI, with an impressive number of timely presentations in multiple categories (eg, basic science, clinical science, social science, epidemiology). It was a privilege to cover it for ConsultantLive.
Do you favor a particular conference strategy? At CROI? In general? Tell us, and your colleagues, how you get the most out of information-dense meetings.