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How to Win Friends and Influence PTs at CSM 2018

by Trace McClintock

The Combined Sections Meeting starts in a few days! Do you find yourself worrying about what it’s going to be like in The Big Easy surrounded by the top names in physical therapy?
Whether you’re a first year, a new grad or a long time practicing PT, CSM gives you the opportunity to network and connect with your #PTFAM. While some people’s main goal for CSM is to attend the various meetings and educational sections, if you’re looking to come away with a few new contacts and friends moving forward then you’re in the right place. Having attended CSM my first two years as a student, I believe I have a unique insight into some of the thoughts and fears we as students have about going to a conference of this magnitude. Let’s dive in to how to win PT friends at CSM!

Start on social media

If you still have a little time to prepare, start to reach out to some people you want to meet up with on social media. It’s a great first step toward building a meaningful relationship through CSM. By reaching out early, you give the person you want to meet with some time to look through your various social media platforms to get to know a little about you. Also, reaching out before you’re in the middle of the busy conference schedule allows you and the person you’re meeting to plan accordingly.

However, some people function better just going off-the-cuff. If you have just started reading this after checking into your hotel and don’t feel like you have time to reach out in a genuine manner, start searching #APTACSM or #CSM2018 on Twitter to find out who is in NoLA. This is an easier way to filter your search to those attendees who are likely looking for others to connect with. When you find someone you want to meet with in person, send them a direct message or look them up on Facebook Messenger. I typically have asked people to meet up for coffee or a drink because in the middle of all of the chaos that is CSM, it is hard to ask a stranger to have a sit down dinner with you.

When you are searching for people to connect with, do not limit yourself based on how busy you think people are. All of the big names in social media are attending CSM to network. If you are willing to put yourself out there and ask to meet for a cup of coffee, there is a decent chance that they will find time for you. My first CSM I was rather timid and didn’t take advantage of the networking opportunities so hopefully you can read this and avoid making a similar mistake. I know it can be a little scary to just walk up to one of your PT idols, so back dooring a meeting through social media is a great way to build a relationship prior to your first meeting.

Open the conversation

Once you’ve made the connection and set a meeting time, an easy talking point is to ask them about their journey and how they got here. Not only will you get to learn a lot about someone in their short narrative, just like with taking a good history from our patients, this will build a solid foundation for your future interactions.

During my first CSM I was lucky enough to build some lasting connections based on complete chance. I was sitting in a pediatric lecture and the student in front of me turned around and just asked where I was from and how I got to Anaheim from Chicago as a first year. This led to here giving me her business card (as a first year I felt like this was a huge deal) and then we started noticing each other more around the conference.

Even though there are going to be over 14,000 physical therapists and students at CSM, recognizing a face in the crowd happens far more often than you think. If you met someone at an educational section for the overhead athlete, it is likely that you will see him or her again in other sports related talks. If you have prepared business cards, this is the time to start pulling them out. Once you have noticed the same person several times and you have done the awkward wave acknowledging that you see each other a time or two, it is time to walk up and start a conversation. It doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking, but ending it by giving them a business card and asking them to text you is a great way to get the ball rolling.

Attend sessions solo

If you’re a student who has a large number of classmates also attending, an easy way to make new connections is by going to different educational sessions than the rest of your classmates. If you are forced to sit alone in a room, you’re more likely to find someone new to interact with when they start asking questions. Remember that you’re sitting next to either a student or a professional in the field of physical therapy so you already have so much in common. That being said, it can be a little scary to go to an educational session on your own during your first CSM, so if that is the case, at least volunteer to be the person sitting at the end of your group so that maybe the person next to you will be the brave one and start the conversation.

Once you have had the interactions and you’re leaving the conference room, the best way to retain your new acquaintance is by following up. If you got the person’s name but not their phone number, reach out to them on Facebook or Twitter just saying that it was great talking to them. A lot of people will have a genuine interaction and then not follow up which allows the potential friendship to be snuffed out. Even if it is just tagging them in a post or sending a snapchat later in the day, that interaction after your initial meeting really sets the foundation.

Be organized

This leads me to a little pro-tip: if you do get their phone number, have them type their name!

You will be meeting and talking to a lot of different people and if you are at all like me, keeping everyone organized will be very difficult. I typically leave the conference with several “John Smith CSM—ortho breakfast” or “Jane Smith CSM—Peds talk” saved in my phone. I try to make sure to label the name with CSM so that if in eight months they reach out to prepare for next year’s CSM, you know who they are — or if you want to reach out to all of your contacts from CSM, then it is easier to find them down the road.

Accept vulnerability

Finally, I would like to challenge you to reach out and start 5 conversations each day at CSM.

You will be very surprised how many people are looking to start a meaningful conversation. Even if only one or two of the conversations take off, you will still be walking away from CSM with a few new friendships. If you’re a student, do not be afraid to reach out to someone next to you that looks like they are a practicing physical therapist. Some of the best mentorship advice and conversations I have had as a student at CSM have been with professionals who are still making it a point to interact with our students.

While I completely understand how CSM can be a scary idea; being willing to put yourself out there on social media can be a great first step to easing some of your concerns. Take the time to reach out to people and set up a time for coffee or a drink and you will find your schedule filling up rather quickly. If all else fails and your social media connections aren’t panning out, make the first move at the educational sessions and start the conversation. Take away the fear for someone else and just start talking about the profession that you both clearly have a passion for.

Stay in touch!

Finally, if you have met someone who you really want to keep in touch with moving forward, reach out once the conference has finished. As you are waiting in an airport with nothing else to do, go through your new list of “_____ from CSM” contacts and just send a message wishing them safe travels and that you want to keep in contact moving forward.

Take advantage of your time at CSM and don’t be afraid to start the conversation; your #PTFAM will love the chance to get to know you!


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