5 Tips for Surviving Conferences
I was listening to Take Control of Your Life by Mel Robbins on my commute this week. After talking with a PE teacher, Mel made the observation that most people who make careers out of education are in love with learning and personal growth. It was like she was pointing at me when she said that. I love to learn and am passionate about learning experiences. This is why I adore attending conferences!
It seems like Spring and Summer is when many of my conferences fall. As we move towards the end of one school year and start planning for the next, tons of teachers will be attending conferences to learn new things, improve their practices, and gear up for what is ahead.
As much as I love conferences, they can be overwhelming. Here are 5 tips for getting the most out of every conference you attend:
1. Plan Travel Ahead - Conferences tend to be scheduled in big cities that require knowing where to stay, park, etc. Don't wait until the last minute to register, book hotels and travel. Registrations usually increase the closer you get to the conference dates. Save your travel budget by getting a early bird discount. Some conferences attract thousands of people and waiting until the last minute to plan can lead to higher prices and lack of access to conference hotels. If you are driving to the conference everyday, scope out parking and traffic patterns so you aren't left walking for blocks because closer parking is full.
2. Strategically Pick Sessions - Most of the conferences I attend have several strands participants can choose from based on their role, position, or interest. Look at the conference program (or app) to look at offerings before you show up and select several options for each time slot. When your 1st choice is full, you can try your 2nd or 3rd choice if you select them in advance. It is also helpful to concentrate of sessions that follow a certain theme. If you need growth in strategies for one specific skill, attend sessions that help you gain in that area. A deep dive in a topic where you need growth is more valuable that dipping your toes into many pools of content.
3. Comfort is Key - Conferences are notorious for long days, lots of walking, and few breaks.
- Clothing: Be sure to wear shoes and clothes that will be comfortable throughout the day. Expect to do lots of walking. Those shoes may be super cute with that outfit, but can you walk for miles in them without pain and blisters? Check the weather and bring appropriate outerwear. Even if it is summer, some conference centers are freezing! Bring a light jacket, just in case.
- Bags: Be mindful about what stuff you carry around. That big purse will get heavy as the day drags on. Would a backpack make your load lighter? Or a cart/bag with wheels on it. Doe the conference have an exhibit hall where you will pick up tons of free stuff? If so, where will that go in the bag you bring with you? What bag you bring doesn't seem like a big deal, but it makes a difference.
- Food: Bring snacks and drinks with you. There may not be good break times, and you will need to eat on the go. Having granola bars, fruit, or nuts in your bag can be a life saver. Also, conference centers know you are trapped and charge enormous prices for food.
4. Take Notes and Make Connections- Whether you like digital note taking or pencil/paper notes, write things down. So much information will be offered that having notes to jog your memory will be a huge help when you leave the conference. Record the presenter's contact information. Reach out with questions after the conference is over. They are there to offer support and guidance. As a frequent presenter, I am happy to help participants even months later if they reach out to me. Follow them on social media, like Twitter or Facebook, to continue to get ideas from them.
5. Prioritize Reflection - Conferences can be like trying to take a drink form a fire hose. The sheer amount of information you receive at each session is exhausting. Spend time every evening reflecting on what you have learned, what was your biggest takeaway, and how can you use it in your life. Prioritize what you want to use and create a holding spot for good ideas that you can explore later. If you attend the conference with a colleague, plan time to reflect together. Don't want to wait until the end of the day? Use social media and the conference hashtag to share your thoughts throughout the conference. This can connect you in conversations with other attendees that can help your personal growth and learning.