Final thoughts on my ASHA convention experience

Jan 9, 2017 by

Final thoughts on my ASHA convention experience

Well it’s been over a month since I attended the ASHA Convention in Philly. I’ve been wanting to follow up my ASHA Convention Experience article series with a summary of my experience and thoughts on the whole thing. Overall my whole ASHA Convention experience gets a flexible B to B-.

The Sessions
There were two main reasons in my mind to go to ASHA. One was the amazing amount information I expected to be exposed to. ASHA gets a solid A for the quality of speakers. With 15,000 in attendance, ASHA presented a nice variety of sessions in terms of topics and length. There were always several sessions I wanted to attend that fell at the same time. Overflow was handled well when sessions were extremely popular.

My Poster Session
The second main reason to attend the ASHA convention was to present my poster (based on my book) on Educating School Administrators about the Speech Language Pathologist’s scope of practice and role in schools. Unfortunately, I presented my poster on Saturday the last day and last session. There were several people who had made it a point to come and talk to me and that was great. I couldn’t even linger afterward to talk with the few still milling about because the venue kicked us out. I also think at that point people were on “information overload” and either left the conference or were more interested in vendor deals. I did end up giving away a few of my books. Yes I am a soft touch. I also had a great rack card handout to give to principals and administrators. I was surprised more were not taken. However, when people took the time to read the rack card info they often came back for more or sent their friends over to get one.

Information Overload
I like to talk speech language pathology as much as the next guy but three full days is almost too much of an overload. I know by Saturday I was ready to ditch the sessions I planned to attend. I forced myself to go since I had paid for the conference. I was glad I did.

The Mira App
I did like using the Mira app. I think it helped to organize my time to help me get the maximum ceus possible. Organizing for this convention was overwhelming because so many sessions were offered. Not only did I prepare before I went but I firmed up my schedule the night before. I used my IPad to reference the uploaded conference materials during sessions and that helped with note taking. I ended up with 17.5 CEUs and that was with very little down time. If you plan on using your IPad at any convention make sure you have an external charger handy those batteries drain quickly.

Connections
I found that ASHA can be a very lonely place when you go alone. Honestly, I keep myself busy so that really doesn’t bother me. However, it would have been nice to have some formal opportunities to really discuss topics with other SLPs rather than just listening to lectures. Of course I would chitchat with people sitting next to me or sharing a table at breakfast but it was just surface conversation. I wish ASHA would offer roundtable discussions where you could meet and discuss current topics/concerns/share ideas/possible initiate change. I’m also at the point in my career where a few more opportunities to network and collaborate would be nice. (Sorry SLPs I have to say this…we’re still a very clicky crowd.)

The Keynote Speaker
I have to give a shout out to the keynote speaker, Drew Dudley, he was excellent. I usually don’t go in for the rah-rah of opening ceremonies but I am glad I went. He actually inspired me to make a key decision regarding my career.

The Vendors
The biggies were there such as Pearson and Super Duper. Apparently it is a tradition for many to leave with their yearly Super Duper bag that they give-a-way. I will admit it is a nice bag. There were lots of raffles so I hope someone won something. Tag scanning makes entering a lot easier. A few of the bigger ones were giving away like one copy of one test-such Princes. Too many staffing agencies were there trying to get you to sign up with them (that will be an article for another time). There were also several vendors hawking TENS units. Those small vibrators that are suppose to help pain. I have to wonder if SLP have a higher percentage of pain compared to other fields because of all the bags we carry. And yes there was a bag lady there. At least she was an SLP. There were not as many tchotchkes to pick up as there were 30 years ago. I didn’t buy anything but I did see a few things that would work for me in therapy. Some of the vendors were offering conference discounts. I noticed the private practice folks loading up on discounted materials.

I did meet the ladies who have created SLP Toolkit and they have one heck of a product that I want to try.

The Cost
When all was said and done I spent around 1,500 to go to ASHA. I got the early bird ASHA conference fee (no discount for presenters which I think is wrong). Airfare was reasonable. Now I stayed at the Marriott to be at the venue so that added significantly to the cost. Sharing was not something I would have ever considered, even in my younger days. Let’s think about this ladies….do you think men go to conferences and ask, “Who will I room with?” I doubt the men of ASHA were sharing hotel rooms. Why would that even be something to consider, we are adult professionals. Poster costs were minimal but the hours involved in prep were not. (Poster presenters do not even get credit for the time they stand at their poster presenting-it isn’t a great deal CEU wise) However, presenting is voluntary and if you aren’t willing to put in the time you don’t have to do it. It is obvious they have no difficulty getting quality presenters with the current system. I doubt other fields give away their information like that.

Dining
The food situation at this particular conference was terrible. The venue did not have enough staff on to even sell coffee in the morning. Long lines were everywhere and so many food stands were not even opened. There was very little time between sessions to get something to eat. A half hour was not going to be enough given the food situation. The hotel restaurants had incredible waits (due to poor staffing from what I could see). Even lines at the giant food court across the street were huge. I ended up eating hot dogs off a food truck for two lunches. I might consider the box lunch option if there is a next time. Luckily, I participate in the Marriott rewards program so I had breakfast and enough of a snack around dinner to call it a meal. Now I did have a lovely dinner one night with an old friend and her husband. We picked a great spot and got to see a little bit of the city.

The City
It would have been nice to have some time built in to see the city or take a tour. I know other professional conferences offer that. ASHA is all business. SLPs just don’t have the luxury of taking time off from learning.

Final Thoughts
I am glad that I went but I can’t say I enjoyed the experience. I think I just went in with expectations that were too high. The funny thing about that is that after 30 years of continuing education, I know better. The content presented in the sessions I attended was better than average. Very rarely do you actually get practical information out of any conference you attend. I would say that I took away good ideas from around 50-75% of the sessions I attended. Which I think is pretty good.

I think it was more the social aspects of ASHA that didn’t meet my expectations. I was hoping for more opportunities to talk shop with other SLPs, find out what others are doing and share some thoughts. It’s almost like ASHA and SLPs need a pragmatic goal or expectation. We are so isolated in our work that I though perhaps at the ASHA convention I might get to meet and discuss issues with like minded SLPs. Unless I decide to present again I won’t go to another ASHA till it comes back to Boston. I’ll spend my continuing education budget on smaller conferences. But who knows, I’m thinking about submitting to present at the Schools Connect, Health Care Connect, and Private Practice Connect in New Orleans in July. The only turn off there is New Orleans in July. I’m still not giving up my mission of advocating for SLPs and speech/language students through increased education for school administrators.
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