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Conference Attendance with Purpose - Michelle's Thoughts and Experiences

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Next week sees the opening of IATEFL's annual conference in Harrogate. (The picture below was taken the last time I was in Harrogate for IATEFL, in 2014)

This is one of the biggest and best international English language teachers' conferences in - dare I say it - the world!! And for business English teachers and trainers, it's a wonderful opportunity for our all important continuous professional development (CPD). For me, CPD includes not only the talks, workshops, plenaries and pop-up presentations where we can expand and deepen our knowledge; for me, it is also the chance to network with like-minded and passionate ELT professionals. In this short post, I share a couple of experiences from my first couple of IATEFL conferences and what I have subsequently learned about how to attend with purpose rather than rolling along just for the fun of it (which is also OK, if that's your intention).


Perhaps the most useful thing I learned after my first IATEFL in Glasgow, 2011, was to read through the schedule ahead of time. Check through and earmark talks that catch your eye. If any "names" jump out at you, prioritize those if the topic is also up your street; it's nice to have someone / thing familiar to hook onto and orient yourself in readiness to take on board what is being said. I tend to suffer from drifting attention if I haven't primed my brain beforehand.


Which brings me to another point: balancing talk attendance between a "sure bet" presenter and an "un-tried" presenter (thinking from your own perspective of who you have and have not yet seen in action). Time is precious; your brain can only cope with so much input each day (and there's A LOT to take in at IATEFL). Invest more of your time and energies in talks you know will be delivered well by an experienced speaker, but also give new speakers the chance to wow you. Even if their presentation skills are still developing, they may have valuable new knowledge or insights to offer. If this turns out not to be the case and a talk ends up as a flop, chalk it up to experience. Make a mental note of what you didn't like so you can avoid doing that yourself, and only share your critical (i.e.: "criticizing") views with trusted people, in private.


One thing I was glad I did at my first IATEFL, was contact a speaker ahead of time and arrange to meet up after their talk. The topic was very applicable to my teaching practice at that time and I had bought a copy of the book on which the speaker had based the talk. Having reached out ahead of time meant that I was able to cut through the mass of people trying to talk to the speaker at the end of the session. We subsequently spent many an hour during the rest of the conference talking about our mutual interests and they signed my copy of their book!


That's 2 aspects of attending IATEFL (or any conference) with purpose, neither of which is too onerous, and indeed are probably self-evident: check which talks are interesting ahead of time, and reach out to particular speakers to introduce yourself. Another aspect of attending with purpose is being mindful throughout the days you're there.


As I already mentioned, the conference is very full-on. Not only do the talks require focus and attention, the bits in-between are exciting, stimulating and draining in equal measures. Be sure to allow time and space for the unexpected: an unforgettable conversation with someone over a coffee; absorbing discussions in the evening at the bar; spontaneous invites to dinner after the day's sessions have ended. Then take time for yourself, to catch your breath, clear your head and stretch your legs.


When it comes to the interesting chats and discussions, keep track of them all; exchange business cards - make a memorable note on the backs of the cards you receive so you can get in touch after the conference. (Make sure you do if you've said you will!). Perhaps you like journalling, or blogging. The latter has increased in popularity over the years I've been attending IATEFL. There are some outstanding, instant bloggers who write while listening (see this article by top blogger and person who knows a bit about CPD, Sandy Millin: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/news-and-events/webinars/webinars-teachers/sandy-millin-professional-development-through-blogs-and). And others who post after the action (e.g.: https://teacherphili.com/2022/05/21/a-fishy-iatefl/) We believe it a good way of "attending with purpose" and of building your brand (there's a regular session at IATEFL which covers this subject - this year it's on Tue. 18 at 13:10-13:30 with Chia Suan Chong); Ben and I will be posting our impressions of IATEFL talks during and after the conference, so bookmark this page if you want to have a read...


In the next blog post, I want to share how I manage all my conference "luggage", and especially, where to stash my business cards so they can be quickly and easily whipped out at a moments notice. See you back here then.



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