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Attending a Conference Plenary - Ben's Thoughts on What to Do and Not Do

Attending one of the plenaries at IATEFL's 2023 Conference in Harrogate this week got me thinking about ways to engage with plenary talks at such events.

Here are my thoughts on what a conference delegate could do (not) when listening to a plenary.


1. Always attend a talk with an open mind even if it is not "your thing"; there will be something to learn or just to think about.

2. Find a way to engage in a way that works for you - this could be note-taking, active listening, asking questions, tweeting or blogging. Change your method if you feel you are becoming jaded.

3. Always question (ie: critically reflect). Do not think you have to agree with everything just because this is a plenary talk delivered by a "thought leader".

4. Think critically and feel free to reject the speaker's ideas if they do not work for you, your culture, your organisation, your students or your wider context.

5. Write up your notes and share with colleagues or the wider community in some form.

6. Talk to the speaker at a suitable time beyond the plenary session. Take a selfie if you can!


1. Dismiss the talk or speaker based on the title or their field, nor place them on a pedestal.

2. Panic after the talk and think you must change your entire teaching practice - test new ideas and adapt old ones based on what you learned.

3. Get swept along with a crowd; some plenaries can evoke a certain group dynamic which, on reflection may be over the top - either in a positive or negative way.

4. Jump on something because it is a fad; take ideas that will enhance your teaching, not just act as a substitute for something else.

5. Be afraid to critique openly - you can evaluate and be polite. A person's status in the industry (real or perceived) does not mean they are immune from being questioned.

6. Feel any form of guilt as a result of the plenary or think that what you have been doing is wrong!

7. Feel afraid to speak to a plenary speaker after their talk or when you see them around the conference venue.

What do you think? What would you add to this list?

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