The 2019 ASCO Annual Meeting, which starts on May 31, is drawing closer and the excitement is palpable. ASCO’s Annual Meeting at McCormick Place in Chicago is massive, with over 40,000 attendees and 2.6 million square feet of exhibit halls. Physician attendees look forward to benefiting from many aspects of the conference, including: educating themselves regarding the most cutting-edge cancer treatments, presenting their own research, volunteering for the organization, participating in meetings, and networking with colleagues. What’s the optimal way to plan your trip? Here are some of my best tips:
Start with Commitments
The key to maximizing your time is to plan each day in detail. Start by creating a Word document and type in each day you’ll attend the meeting. Mark down the events you’re already committed to, such as talks and abstract presentations. These are the key anchors for your schedule each day. Remember to write down the exact time and meeting room for each (the ASCO iPlanner can help you find that information; more on that below). Put these important commitments onto your calendar as well, whether you use Google calendar or Outlook.
Prioritize Networking Events
ASCO is an excellent place to network and there are many opportunities to meet people. A great way to maximize your time is to attend events, such as the Presidential Dinner, the Digital Influencer Reception, and other events hosted by your institution. These events are widely attended so you’ll have many people to meet and network with. Make sure to add these events to your calendar; it’s easy to forget amidst all the million other things going on around you.
I made a short video to share my personal advice on effective networking at the ASCO Annual Meeting and similar conferences, which you can watch below or on YouTube:
Invite Colleagues to Your Presentations
A great tip from my colleague Dr. Narjust Duma is to kill two birds with one stone: While you’re putting your presentation event into your own online calendar, use this as an opportunity to send out a meeting invite to colleagues to attend. This is a great way to remind them to participate and increase the chances they won’t forget, since it’s on their calendar, too! This is especially important for colleagues who you’ve never met in person, which is quite common now with the growth of social media. For example, both of the abstracts that I co-authored for this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting were with colleagues I met over Twitter and Facebook. In addition to supporting our work by attending the research presentations, I also want to meet my virtual colleagues in real life (finally!).
Scour the ASCO iPlanner
The ASCO iPlanner is an important tool to discover which sessions to attend. You can search many ways, including by day, track, session type, and author. I use the iPlanner in a stepwise approach. First, I review the meeting schedule day by day. For each day, I add big events, like the Opening Session and the Plenary Session, onto my typed schedule. Second, I search the iPlanner by author, to find out when my mentors and colleagues are presenting. If there is anyone else I want to make sure to meet, I’ll search their name as well. Third, I search the iPlanner by disease sites and topics I’m interested in, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, and stereotactic radiation. I’ll add these sessions to my calendar as well.
Lastly, reach out to colleagues and mentors to schedule a time and place to meet. Whether you grab coffee, go to dinner, or meet outside the Plenary Session, find the time to connect with people one-on-one or in smaller groups. Before the meeting, connect via email or direct messaging to plan the get together. (ASCO's Find A Colleague directory may be helpful here). Then, remember to exchange cell phone numbers in advance so you can find each other as planned. You may be unable to meet everyone, but with good planning you can squeeze in more than you may have thought.
I hope these tips will help you maximize your experience at the ASCO Annual Meeting. Looking forward to seeing you there!