Making The Most of Conferences

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It is that time of year where a vast group of English teachers venture to the UK to continue their professional development for the IATEFL Conference. This year it was held at Glasgow. I believe it was five years ago, in 2012, when I went to the IATEFL Conference in Glasgow to give my talk based upon my research for my MA in Dogme ELT. You can read more about my dissertation and research in this post.

Anyhow, attending conferences can be overwhelming, challenging and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. This post looks at the best ways to make the most out of conferences and how to make the most of your time.

1. Before The Conference

It is best to start your planning early. Look at what talks will be of interest of you. For example, if you are very enthusiastic about phonology, then it makes sense to attend talks about this area. However, if you do not know too much about teaching teenagers and you are curious, then go ahead and attend a talk about this. So before the conference, decide on talks you would like to attend and talks which would not be of interest, yet be open and pursue areas of teaching which could develop you professionally whether they are of interest or not.

2. Speak To Others

One very important thing to do before, during and after the conference is to chat with other attendees. It may initially appear quite difficult to speak with other attendees during a conference but it is really a great chance to network and to share your experiences with other professionals. You will also meet a range of people from different backgrounds who may have some ideas to help with your own professional background and, if you are anything like me, you can also feel a new sense of enthusiasm after speaking with other teachers with refreshing ideas just by chatting to other attendees.

3. Notes & Handouts

It can rather overwhelming going to more than four or five talks in a day, with difficulty remembering who said what and what was learnt. One thing I try to do to help me remember is taking session is to make notes about it, take handouts and, if possible, ask for a copy of the presentation – don’t forget to say “thank you”. Most speakers (myself included) now are happy to share their talks and workshops online for other professionals to refer to when needed. I feel that there is a lot to be learnt from conferences but it can be a minefield remembering what was learnt so try to organise handouts and notes accordingly.

4. Feedback

Our school has a policy for those teachers who have attended conferences and this is to offer a feedback session to all other teachers. It can be really useful to consolidate what was learnt during the conference and to reiterate what was mentioned during particular talks and workshops attended. It helps reinforce professional development and fosters an open environment for all teachers and staff.

5. Write About The Talk

When I first started going to ELT-related conferences, I found it beneficial to write about the talks that I had attended and the general overview of the conference. Many bloggers such as Sandy Millin and Peter Clements have written various posts about the IATEFL 2017 Conference in Glasgow. Again, blogging about conferences and talks will lead to other bloggers reading your posts, will remind you of what you watched and your experiences as well as connect with other bloggers who are also interested about the particular conference or attending that conference.

6. One Final Note

You are attending a conference to interact and learn more about the subject, so I would recommend to put your phone on ‘Airplane’ mode. You can use it to take photos but don’t lose yourself in your phone with emails or on social media. It can become a distraction and you are likely to come across as unapproachable. Speak to other attendees and see what you can do. Finally, enjoy your time at the conference and have fun!

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