Ten Tips to Get the Most Out of the TESOL Conference

Coming to the TESOL conference?  I’ve said it before (last year) and I’ll say it again. Whether it’s your first time or your fifteenth, there are always new things to learn. Here are some tips on having the best experience you can.

Plan your schedule. There’s lots to do at the conference. Take time to use the online itinerary planner, download the program book, or get a copy of the TESOL 2013 app for iPhone and Android smartphones. Leave yourself time to review the program book once you arrive. Make your own schedule. You can write it down on a piece of paper if you want. But give yourself a plan.

Bring your own bag. One of the delights of the annual conference is seeing the terrific design that the organizers have come up with for a conference tote bag. My advice: Take it back to your hotel room and leave it there! With six thousand people carrying the exact same bag, it’s all too easy to put yours down and pick up someone else’s.  Bring your own briefcase, backpack, or a bag from a previous conference. You’ll find lots of creative uses for this year’s bag when you get home and think warm thoughts about the sponsor.

Downtown Dallas

Downtown Dallas seen from the Hyatt hotel.

Visit the publishers’ exhibits. TESOL has the greatest number of ELT publishers together under one roof anywhere in the world! Be sure to save time to explore the exhibit area. Don’t be afraid to ask publishers for sample copies of books if you are in a position to influence a purchase decision. Not sure where to look—just ask!

Leave yourself some down time. Conferences are great, but they can also be overwhelming. If you do nothing but attend sessions from morning until night, your brain will be full by the second day and you’ll come out of a workshop not remembering the first thing. Give yourself a break. Take a walk. Go outside. Visit the exhibits.

Make new friends. Or, to use the technical term, do some networking. There are great English language teachers from all over the world at TESOL. You’re sure to meet someone that has something in common with you.  TESOLers are friendly. Don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation. Bring lots of business cards for networking. A great place to do this is in the conference sessions marked Discussion Groups.

Don’t lose your stuff. Write your name, email address, and cell phone # on your program book.  Use a thick pen and write your name visibly on the sides of the book. Remember there are six thousand others that look just like it.  Put your name, email address, and cell phone number on valuables such as cameras that you might set down by accident.

Become active in your Interest Section. TESOL’s Interest Sections are the heart of the organization. They help organize the conference and adjudicate the proposals. They sponsor academic sessions and discussion groups. Check out one of the open business meetings. It’s great networking and a good way to get involved with the association.

Stay hydrated. Convention centers and hotels are dry places. The air and ventilation systems take a lot of moisture out of the air. Be kind to your body by drinking lots of water. Eye drops can help, too.

Say thank you. Hundreds of volunteers have put in hours and hours and hours of work to make this conference a success. You can recognize them by the ribbons they’re wearing. Take a minute to thank them for their efforts. You’d be amazed how quick people are to complain about the things that they don’t like, but take for granted the days of their lives that other teachers have given up to make the conference a success. Thank the conference sponsors, too. Their contributions made it less expensive for you to be here.

Get involved! This is your professional association and you can help. Offer to volunteer for a slot. Sign up to help read proposals for next year. Think about what you could present at next year’s conference. Look for other leadership and volunteer opportunities. You’ll find the conference and TESOL to be a lot more meaningful if you do.

Do you have other suggestions for making the conference a success? Please add them in the comments below.  Have a great time!

About Joe McVeigh

Joe McVeigh
Joe McVeigh works independently in the field of English language teaching as a consultant, author, and teacher trainer. For over 25 years he has taught at universities in the United States, including the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California, and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. He has lived and worked in countries including China, India, Chile, the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia. He has taught students from more than 50 countries. He is co-author with Ann Wintergerst of Tips for Teaching Culture: Practical Approaches to Intercultural Communication (Pearson Longman) and a co-author with Jennifer Bixby of two books in the Q: Skills for Success series (Oxford University Press). In addition to writing and consulting, Joe speaks at conferences and workshops, and maintains a blog and website on issues of interest to teachers of ESL. You can also find him on Twitter: @JoeMcVeigh. Joe is a past chair of TESOL's Intensive English Programs Interest Section and served on the TESOL Board of Directors from 1995-1998. He lives with his wife and son in Middlebury, Vermont, USA.
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