I attended the 23rd annual IATEFL-H (as in Hungary) conference in Budapest last month and after the conference I was thinking about what I do to try to get the most out of the conferences I attend. I wonder if you do similarly? In any case, here’s my (suggested) hit list:
- Study the conference programme beforehand if possible and pencil-in/pre-select the sessions you think you might want to attend. Once you arrive at the conference and after registering et al, you are often all of the sudden caught up in meeting old friends and making new acquaintances and might not have the time to properly study the programme before the actual conference rush starts.
- Attend all the plenaries and key note talks not only because these are usually given by leading figures and authorities in our (or other) fields, but also—and perhaps more importantly—because they (should) aim to give a wider pedagogical perspective on what’s happening in our profession.
- Choose carefully among the concurrent talks and workshops. I usually look first at the title of the session and then see if I know the presenter and/or their teaching affiliation or situation. But before making my final choice, I read the abstract closely to see if it corresponds to what I’m looking for.
- Attend a session just for yourself. I always try to attend at least one session during a conference on a subject or area which I might not be presently professionally involved with but which interests me just from a personal point of view.
- Network! Whether you attend conferences with colleagues or go all on your lonesome, try to meet and talk with as many people as possible during the conference (including at the receptions, entertainment evenings, gala dinners, organised outings et al) and exchange business cards, e-mail addresses, social media links. You know, during pair work activities in my talks at conferences I ask participants to ‘talk with someone you don’t know’ exactly for that reason.
- Visit—and re-visit—the exhibition area to get information and browse at the stands of the exam boards and publishers. You might find a new title you didn’t know about or get a special price on a book you’ve always wanted. Or you might have a complaint or request to make or a question to be answered. And there are usually freebies to take away: inspection copies, catalogues, pens, notepads, posters, badges etc.
- Thank the conference organisers at the end of the conference. It takes a lot of time and work to organise a conference and, even if their conference wasn’t perfect (Hey, nothing is.), the organisers deserve—and will appreciate—some praise and a real or virtual pat on the back.
BTW: IATEFL-H was great! … as I told the organisers J
Gary Anderson, Cambridge English International Teacher Trainer