Don’t lose your marbles!
Make the most of the ELT conference
With so many talks and workshops on offer, how do people decide which to go for? Do you choose topics that are within your field of expertise to find out what others are doing and thinking, or do you go for something you know absolutely nothing about? Do you choose talks that you think will present a solution to a problem you have in the classroom or something that will fill in a knowledge gap? Maybe you want to find new ways of doing or teaching something because you feel like you’re in a bit of a rut. What about choosing presentations because they have interesting or humorous titles? Or do you go to a talk because your colleagues are going too?
Looking at the conference programme or timetable, some talks may stand out as things you definitely want to attend. At other times, you scan the long list of options and become overwhelmed, and then later on realise you missed something you had earmarked as vital.
Conference survival tips
What do want to know?
Think about your professional goals before attending the event. Make a list of what you want to come away with, be it new ideas, skills or even contacts. Having some objectives in mind can really help when faced with choosing one out of 15 parallel presentations which all sound pretty interesting.
Have a look in advance at any conference materials that are available. When you find talks that appeal to you, research the speaker and find out what their background is. You may be drawn to the talks by the big names, without realising that there is something much more relevant to your needs going on somewhere else at the same time.
Add a bit of variety to your choice and consider how the information you’re hearing could be adapted to suit your context. Would that project with teens suit adults and what would you have to do to make it work? Note down the speakers contact details. You can also shoot off a quick question or comment to them via email or Twitter when you are at home going over your notes or planning how to use their ideas with a particular group of students.
Presentations by first time speakers or on special interest topics might attract smaller groups which can mean greater opportunity for participation. So, participate!
Don’t be afraid of asking a question, making a comment or giving a suggestion. Conferences are about sharing knowledge and experiences, and interacting with speakers and fellow attendees is a great way of getting the ball rolling. It helps break the ice with others in the room and in general, I think most speakers appreciate the input. The world of ELT is so huge and diverse, I try to remind myself that ‘we’re all in it together’ and that working in such different contexts, we can learn from each other regardless of whether we’re there as presenter, author or participant, native or non-native speaker, novice or experienced trainer, with a TEFL cert or PhD. It may sound obvious, but we can all find ourselves feeling a bit intimidated or shy outside of our own environment.
Say Yes to the social events. From evening events and dinners to concerts and city tours, these have been carefully planned by the conference organisers, who know what teachers are interested in. You have the chance to enjoy good food, a glass or two of wine, learn something about the city you’re in and get chatting to some new people. You may not know anyone there, but most people are in the same boat. Be prepared to make the first move and introduce yourself and see where it goes from there.
The food is great, isn’t it?
Keep in touch.
When you get home, pull out the business cards you collected and send a nice follow-up email or make contact via social media. A short note to say how nice it was to meet them is all it takes. You can jog their memory by mentioning something specific such as the talk you attended together or the conversation you had. I’ve started making little notes on the backs of the business cards I’m given or in the notebook I usually carry round at conferences, and at social events I often take photos of the people I end up chatting to and add those to their contact info in my phone’s address book. The notes may be things like ‘Spanish man I met on bus to event’, or ‘works in London, has 2-year old twins’ – notes that only make sense to me, but it all helps later. You never know when your paths might cross again.
These tips are sure to help you achieve conference success!
Final thoughts: If, however, you’re someone who has ever secretly thought ‘Without my lanyard I feel naked’, I can’t help you! What you actually need to take a break from all things conference related.
*Is ‘combat fatigue’ even a thing?
Thanks to everyone at IATEFL Poland, organisers and attendees, for making this year’s conference such a fantastic event. I’m looking forward to 2016 already.