10 Easy Ways to Prevent Conference Burnout

In 2019, I attended the national conference for the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). With over 800 attendees and what seemed like hundreds of sessions to choose from, it was overwhelming to say the least.


The conference spanned across 4 days and was pretty well-organized. But, I really had to be conscious of my energy levels during the conference to prevent burnout. I knew it would be inevitable if I wasn’t putting in by best self-care efforts.


How did I get through 4 days’ worth of hardcore networking, education sessions, discussion groups, chapter outings, and Q&A sessions without experiencing burnout?


Here’s what I implemented during my conference to prevent burnout, which can be applied to yours too:


1. Stay in-house

I can’t stress enough how much of a difference it made to stay IN the hotel between the conference dates, rather than elsewhere. Not having to plan ahead regarding transporting your belongings, charging your phone or laptop, meals, sleep timing, etc, was one less (big) thing to worry about. So, I was able to focus on what I came to do: network and learn stuff. Staying at a fancy hotel requires a more substantial financial investment than alternatives, of course. But, for me, it was worth every cent to know that I could pop to my room any time I needed to.


2. Create breaks

This brings me to my next point: you have to create breaks for yourself. Conference schedules are pretty packed, and you don’t usually get a huge chunk of time to yourself in between sessions. It’s also very hard to have alone time when there are hundreds of other conference attendees roaming around the hotel lobby at all hours of the day. Don’t be afraid to skip the odd session to take a proper break – especially if you don’t think you’ll be able to pay much attention because your energy levels are starting to run low. Put your health before your work!


3. Exercise

Speaking of health, when was the last time you exercised at a conference? Most of the time, you’re sitting around in a giant room listening to someone speak. And, with only 5-15 minutes to get to each session (and, let’s face it, we all need bathroom and coffee breaks during that time!), when are you actually moving your body? All hotels have some sort of gym, pool, or leisure centre that guests can use. You could even go for a walk around the outskirts of the building and explore the area a little. Making time for exercise will improve your mental health to make sure you absorb as much information as possible when you are attending sessions.


4. Get outside

Along the same vein, getting a breath of fresh air can be just as effective as exercise when it comes to preventing burnout. At the 2019 AMWA conference, it was rare to see anyone outside. On several occasions, I made an executive decision to miss part of my session to simply stand or sit outside, soak up some sun, and take some deep breaths. I also checked my emails and did some people-watching. That was a nice way to give my brain a break from learning about genetic polymorphisms and pharmacokinetics and talking to people I kept bumping into.


5. Eat well

It can be really tricky to access food that’s reasonably healthy whilst attending a conference. And, it’s easy to eat whatever’s easily accessible for the first couple of days, only to later discover that you feel sluggish and bloated. As a digestive health expert and former dietitian, I know exactly what happens in your body when you don’t provide it with the nutrients it needs to thrive. Want my advice? Don’t wait until you’re feeling crappy and regretting previous meal choices before taking action: go out of your way a little to find food that will energize you.


6. Make friends

I realize that not everyone is as social and comfortable meeting new people as I am. But, it makes an enormous difference if you can make at least 1-2 new friends during your conference. Having someone to text “Did you hear that session X was cancelled? What else are you going to?” or “Do you fancy going to Y for dinner tonight? I heard it’s really good!” is great for reducing stress and anxiety when you’re in an unfamiliar environment and away from family and friends. So, put your conference badge on and GET OUT THERE on Day 1. (You can do this!)


7. Take naps

What did I do during most of my self-created session breaks? Yep – I took a nap. It’s amazing how refreshed and rejuvenated you feel when you completely shut down for a while. It allows your brain and the rest of your body some time to heal. You actually process and eliminate a lot of toxins while you sleep. So, there’s certainly scientific backing behind this recommendation. If you feel like you’re wasting time, remind yourself that you’ll be that much more attentive and responsive when you return to the conference, and will probably learn more overall as a result.


8. Plan ahead

I figured out exactly which sessions I wanted to attend and when before I even step foot in San Diego. Yes, there is a booklet that outlines all of the options and where things are being held. But, having to take the time to figure out what you’re doing and where you’re going in between every single session can be incredibly draining. Why do it to yourself? You’re also more likely to attend sessions just because your friend is, and then how do you really know if you’re getting the maximum amount of value from your conference? Help out future you and plan, plan, plan!


9. Say “no”

If you’re a pro at networking (like me), or if your conference is so well-organized that you’re invited to endless social events during your stay, don’t be afraid to say “no”. Sometimes, you just don’t feel like being around people. Listen to your body to determine whether it’s a good idea for you to attend a social event or not. Maybe it would be better for you to get your work project out of the way, go for a run, or even watch Netflix for a bit? Remember: you’re not there to people-please. You can create the kind of trip that you will enjoy and benefit from.


10. Stay longer

One of the best things I did to prevent burnout during the 2019 AMWA Conference is to book an extra night at the hotel after the conference. I felt like my brain was crammed full of information and ideas about where to take my freelancing medical writing business next. I hadn’t had any time to reflect on what I’d learned during the conference. Plus, I had a build-up of work that I’d been unable to do. So, I booked myself in for another night and spent the day eating brunch, reflecting, hot tubbing, writing blog posts, and walking by the harbour. Perfect!


Thanks for reading. If you’re going on a business trip and planning on implementing any of these tips, I’d love to hear from you! Or, if you’ve just returned from a conference and can relate to any of my experiences, feel free to share.


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