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.
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!