10 Steps for a Successful Conference Experience

I love attending professional conferences in our field. It’s a place where I can learn from experienced teachers and established scholars, participate in intellectual conversations, share my own teaching ideas, and, of course, meet new people and feel a part of our diverse academic community. Conferences have definitely become hallmarks of my professional life as a teacher.

For many of us, attending a conference requires tremendous sacrifices—both in time and money; therefore, it is absolutely necessary to make it a positive and enlightening event. In light of the upcoming 2015 TESOL Annual Convention & English Language Expo in Toronto, Canada (25–28 March), I would like to offer 10 suggestions on how to get the most out of your conference experience.

1. Make a Personalized Conference Schedule

The number of sessions offered at a conference can be quite overwhelming. Therefore, plan in advance and create your personal schedule. Most conference organizers nowadays make conference programs available online even before the event takes place. So I suggest that you spend some time getting acquainted with the conference agenda and create your itinerary, which of course will depend on your goals. In other words, what do you want to take away from attending this event? Are you looking for employment? Do you have research ideas that need to be developed? Are you looking for practical classroom ideas? Or is your goal to strengthen your professional network? All these questions can help you create a productive personalized itinerary.

2. Be Flexible

But be ready to make changes in your schedule. You may have to decide between a lunch with a potential employer and a presentation on an interesting topic. Once again, follow your goals and be ready to sacrifice the good for the better.

3. Have a Conference Buddy

From my experience, there will always be at least two presentations happening at the same time that you desperately want to attend. So pair up with a colleague and take notes at concurrent sessions.

4. Take Good Notes

The notes that you take during a conference can result in great research projects and new ideas for your teaching, or lead to personal opportunities for professional development. Although many presenters prepare handouts of their sessions, I like to write down my own impressions, ideas, and inspirations that come during presentations.

5. Use Networking Opportunities

Academic conferences are the best place to meet people whose work you admire. Get out of your comfort zone and don’t miss the opportunity to get to know them personally, especially if their areas of expertise correlate with your professional interests. But meeting them after their presentations and asking them a question or two is not the only way to increase your professional network. I encourage you to attend social meetings and receptions where you can introduce yourself to other people in an informal—and certainly more relaxed—environment.

6. Have Your Own Business Cards

This is particularly important if you seek to develop your professional network. There is a good chance that people will remember you better if they have your business card. Your business card also demonstrates your professionalism whether you are an administrator, a classroom teacher, or a graduate student.

7. Organize Other People’s Business Cards

Many conversations at professional meetings result in the exchange of business cards, so by the end of the conference you may end up with a large number of business cards. Unfortunately, but truthfully, you won’t find them all equally useful for you, so organize them for your convenience. For example, make a group called “Future collaboration,” or “Good-to-Have-Contacts,” or other categories that make sense to you.

8. Get Good Rest and Eat Well

You will get physically exhausted! So in order to enjoy a conference to the fullest, get enough sleep and nutrition.

9. Turn Knowledge Into Action

Leave the conference with a desire to act upon the knowledge that you received. Make a goal to make goals! After the conference is over, read your notes, look through the handouts, and plan your next step.

And finally…

10. Don’t Forget to Thank the Organizers

Organizing a professional conference is a tremendous amount of work! For several months, these people work hard to make it an unforgettable event; they invest in it intellectually, financially, and emotionally. So they certainly deserve your appreciation.


Do you have other tips to help make conferences successful? Please share in the comments section, below!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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2 Responses to 10 Steps for a Successful Conference Experience

  1. Gilda Martinez-Alba says:

    Hi! I thought those were all great tips! I would also add, though now we have 12 tips, to save the PowerPoints or papers of interest from the conference website soon so that you have them handy when you want to use the information from them or connect with the presenters in the future.

  2. Eric Roth says:

    Thank you for sharing these practical, sensible suggestions. May I also suggest spending a chunk of time in the Exhibits Hall?

    Whether going to a TESOL, CATESOL, or ISTE conference, I find it an excellent way to find new ideas, review new publications, and collect new materials. Further, it’s far easier to conduct an actual conversation of some substance. Plus, it helps me decide which presentations to attend. Although often dismissed as a commercial space, I have frequently found the personal interactions as memorable and satisfying as other convention activities. Perhaps I’m biased as someone who has occasionally worked exhibit tables, going to the exhibit halls has been my default for many more years – especially if I’m attending a conference alone. You can also feel comfortable and find a friendly face, even if sometimes overwhelmed by choices and trends.

    As always with general advice, use or lose. Thank you, again, for sharing your TESOL conference tips.

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