As the IATEFL conference approaches, our thoughts naturally turn to the talks that one plans to go to. In her review of March’s English Teaching professional, editor Helena Gomm highlighted several speakers who are definitely worth seeing in Liverpool this April. But how will you spend your time when you are at the conference?
Learn & Develop
Conferences are without doubt a great place for professional development but with more than 500 talks, workshops and symposiums on offer, how do you decide which of those to go to?
Some of you might be sponsored to go to the conference by the company or school you work for. You may be asked to cascade what you learn at the conference to the rest of your colleagues who are not able to go. If so, it might be worth finding out if there are topics members of your team are interested in or areas that they would like to know more about.
Before you go, make some time to sit down with a nice cup of tea and the conference programme. Skim through the summaries of the available talks, workshops and symposiums. An updated version is usually available online.
If you are a smartphone user, consider downloading the conference app. The IATEFL conference app allows you to bookmark pending favourites, plan your days, and gain direct access to IATEFL online which features video coverage live from the venue.
Don’t just pick talks directly relevant to your line of work. Go to a couple that you know nothing about. Go to ones that you think you might disagree with. And there’s no harm in going for speakers whom you know are going to be interesting even though the topic of their talk may not be quite up your street.
After all, PD (Professional Development) is not only about having a couple of practical ideas to start off your Monday’s lesson with. It’s also about provoking thought and forcing you to rethink your beliefs and the supposedly tried-and-tested methods of teaching that you may have been relying on for years.
And don’t be turned off by talks that look like they might be plugging a new publication. Aside from the freebies that you might get to take home with you and the invites to the publisher-sponsored evening dos, many writers now try to ensure that their presentation would not simply be a marketing ploy, but a chance to offer you some practical tips. And if you’re looking to get published yourself, perhaps it would be worth taking note of the recent trends in the ELT publishing world.
Among the lesser-known gems on the IATEFL conference programme are the 30-minute ‘How-To’ talks that take place in the mornings (8.15am-8.45am) just before the daily plenary begins. These talks are delivered by invited speakers, and the early morning start ensures that the smaller numbers in the audience can receive ample individual attention. Although these morning events are not listed on the IATEFL Conference App and are often overlooked by delegates, they are certainly worth getting out of bed for. Day One of the conference alone offers a choice of three ‘How-To’ talks: ‘How to become a successful freelancer’, ‘How to make the most out of this conference’ and ‘How to reflect on research talks at the conference’. So grab your breakfast coffee and croissant, and get yourself to these ‘How-To’ talks.
The conference experience is as much about the talks and workshops as the people you could potentially meet. Networking is an important part of conferencing and you’ve got your business cards ready, but if you are going on your own, the experience can be rather intimidating at times.
If it’s your first conference, watching groups of people greeting each other like long lost friends might serve to only make you feel even more alone amongst the 2000 delegates in the large conference arena.
So it might surprise you to know that some of these wildly affectionate greetings are taking place between people who might never have met face-to-face before.
In the age of social media, teachers around the world are able to form networks through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs like this one. Such networks, also known as a PLN (Personal Learning Network), not only allow for the sharing of resources and materials, lesson ideas, and interesting links to useful websites, but also foster an environment conducive to discussions and debates about the current issues facing our industry.
If you are not already part of such a network, consider setting up a Twitter account and finding interesting TEFLers to follow and make contact with. Participate in #eltchat (every Wednesday, 12nn & 9pm GMT) and get to know some of the other participants. There are bound to be a few who will be attending the conference you are going to.
Alternatively, have a look at Facebook groups like the IATEFL group, the TEACHERS group, and the EU_Educators group. You’ll find lots of other fellow educators to get into conversation with.
Is it too late to be doing that? Are you reading this while on your way to the conference? Then it’s time to work the room.
Which room? Well, there are several.
First, there are of course the rooms at which the talks you are attending are being held. You are likely to be sitting beside someone during the talk. Use whatever pair/group work sessions to get to know them. Find out where they work and what they do. Learn their names. Remember their faces and say hello to them if you bump into them later in the day.
Then there is the exhibition area, the pubs and the party venues, but more on that later.
Another easy way to make a friend is at the hotel lobby. It won’t be difficult recognizing a fellow conference delegate from their conference lanyards and name badges. Staying at the same hotel means that you might have someone to travel to the conference venue with, so it might be worth approaching them with a smile and a self-introduction ready to go.
If there is someone you are hoping to speak to, whether it be a famous course book writer, a respected academic or a plenary speaker, do not be afraid to make the first move. After all, conferences tend to be a great leveller and remind us all that we are in fact fellow colleagues with the similar passions and interests.
Go to the exhibition area
During the coffee breaks, head to the exhibition area, not only because that’s where you’d find the free teas and coffees, but also because this is the place where many of the social exchanges happen. Walk around, explore the stands, look at the poster presentations, buy some books at a discounted rate, and have coffee with your old and new friends.
Attend the evening events
For the last few years, IATEFL has featured the very well-received Pecha Kucha evenings where guest speakers were given 6 minutes and 40 seconds (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide) to deliver a presentation on their chosen topic.
Although we’ve had to say goodbye to what might have seemed to become a regular feature of recent IATEFL conferences, the committee are treating us to a Failure Festival on Thursday the April 11.
Keeping the much-loved format of short, snappy presentations, the Failure Fest will feature a range of guest speakers who will share with us the lessons they have learnt through experiencing failure.
Another treat in store for conference delegates this year is the Open Mic Night, featuring our multi-talented teachers, writers, and conference speakers who will be singing, performing and confirming the belief that the TEFL lot are indeed an artistic bunch of people.
In addition to these evening events, there will of course be parties organized and sponsored by the various TEFL organizations and publishers. So do find out when and where the parties are being held, and get yourself an invite!
Explore the local area
When booking your flights/trains, if possible, try and leave some time before or after the conference for an opportunity to do some sightseeing and enjoy what the local area has to offer. This year’s IATEFL conference will be in Liverpool, home to the Beatles and Liverpool FC. But the Beatles Museum and Anfield Stadium aren’t the only things that Liverpool has to offer. Take the Mersey Ferry down one of the world’s most famous river crossings, have a leisurely lunch on Albert Dock and pay a visit to Tate Liverpool for some art or go to the Museum of Liverpool to find out more about the history of the city. After the intensive week of conferencing, you’re certainly going to need some time out to indulge in some non-ELT-related activities.
About English Teaching professional’s regular blogger:
Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London.
A self-confessed conference addict, she spends a lot of her time tweeting (@chiasuan/@ETprofessional), Skyping, and writing. You can find out more about her on her blogsite: http://chiasuanchong.com