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There are several RCN rep conferences throughout the year, but the two main events are Joint Reps, which are currently held in spring and autumn. I see them as an excellent networking opportunity and they reinvigorate me as a rep. Sometimes you can get bogged down in the day-to-day tasks and meetings, but there's an awful lot more going on, and there’s more that we can do as reps to make sure that all members get to hear about the great things that we at the RCN are doing.  

Vicky Brotherton

Above: Vicky Brotherton says conferences are a fantastic way to expand your circle

I've made lifelong friends from Joint Reps, too. The contacts you make can be hugely helpful for your professional life because I now have a network of people around the UK I can reach out to for help or inspiration. For example, I’m working on a menopause policy and have asked other reps to share theirs for reference. 

First conference nerves 

On my way to my first reps conference, I was terrified – I hadn’t done a long train journey since I was a little girl, and I wasn’t sure if I’d booked all the right things. Once I got there, I was worried I wouldn’t know anyone or anything. I was quite frightened to speak up on my first attendance: that’s very much changed now! 

I met this wonderful rep who spotted me, probably looking a little bit lost, and took me under her wing. She made sure I sat with her, arrived at the conference dinner on time and found my table. She made sure that I had a great first conference and gave me the confidence to book my place at the next one. I’ve not looked back since. 

My advice for first-time attendees

  • Make sure you read the agenda and make notes on discussion points you want to raise. 
  • Do speak up, but don’t be cocky – there’s a big difference between confident and cocky. Make sure you abide by the RCN Respect Charter and don’t speak out of turn.
  • Make a note of the other reps sitting at your table – you might want to get in touch with them post-conference.
  • Watch some of the recorded sessions from previous conferences so you can see what roughly to expect. These are available on the reps hub.  

Expanding your circle 

Rep conferences are a fantastic way to expand your circle. I’d recommend joining the Facebook page for your region, that way you can find out who is attending and you might be able to travel together or meet up at the venue. Travelling with someone can be helpful if you’re a little nervous. In my region, we always convene on the train and our picnics have become quite renowned! It can help break down the barriers. 

I would advise letting people know if you’re a first-time attendee, too. Your RCN colleagues will welcome you and help support and signpost you to where you need to be. 

Discussions at Joint Rep, Liverpool 2023

Above: Vicky and other delegates at Joint Reps autumn conference 2023 in Liverpool

Visiting the exhibitors 

Take time to talk to the people exhibiting at the conference. There are all sorts of interesting things to learn about, from the different RCN committees to the RCN library team. Some of the exhibitions might give you inspiration for a branch event. For example, I met the LV= insurance team at Joint Reps, and I later got back in touch to get them to come along to my branch meeting and speak to members about what they offer.  

Exhibition at Joint Reps Liverpool 2023

Above: There are plenty of exhibitions to see at Joint Reps

Finding a balance

There’s so much to see and do at Joint Reps, make sure not to overwhelm yourself.

Here are my top tips on balancing having a good time with looking after yourself 

  • Get into bed at a sensible time. Joint Reps is a two-day conference packed full of talks and workshops, and you’ve got to travel home afterwards, so conserve your energy.
  • Keep yourself well hydrated. There are plenty of soft drinks around and opportunities for a break, so use them.
  • When you book, inform them of any dietary needs or allergies. Make sure you’re fed well while at the conference to keep yourself going.
  • Don’t spread yourself too thin – think about which additional talks and events you’ll get the most out of and pick one rather than trying to attend too many.
Vicky Brotherton is an RCN steward, learning rep, health and safety rep and Chair of the RCN South West Board and RCN Plymouth Branch.  

Find out more

Joint Reps spring conference 2024 takes place 7–8 March and is fully booked. However, this year for the first time, we'll be livestreaming the event. These conferences are always popular and oversubscribed, so now, main hall programme sessions will be livestreamed on the Reps Hub so you can view the conference in real time.

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