The Secret of Any Conference

This is the twenty first post in the Professional Development 2.0 series. If you have not already, I would encourage you to start with the first twenty posts:

I love conferences. They are often memorable and fun learning experiences. I have personally, with the help of several others, planned two conferences and am in the middle of planning a third. I also have gone to many conferences over the last few years. I am going to New Milford, NJ this month for an educational technology conference, to Cambridge, Mass. next month for a conference on what brain research can tell us about learning, and to New York City the following month for an unconference focused on effective teaching. I also submitted a proposal to present at the next ISTE conference and hope to get to EduCon in Philadelphia in January. Conferences can become quite addictive.

I will say, though, that it is not to the presenters or the sessions that I have become addicted. On the contrary, many of the traditional conferences that I have attended have been notorious for ineffective teaching. This is not to say that the information is not valid or helpful; it certainly is. Rather, it has become more difficult for me to sit through long periods of being read to, from a paper or a PowerPoint presentation, or talked at after spending years researching effective teaching. I am presenting in the near future on integrating a particular technology tool at a conference, but I will not be lecturing. The session is setup as part conversation and part workshop.

So, why were the conferences so memorable if it was not the sessions or the presenters? These are both vital to running a great conference. What I find most rewarding is the networking, making and solidifying connections both old and new.

Online, through social networking, blogging, and other means, I have come in contact with so many amazing educators. On top of that, many of these connections have resulted in real friendships and even job offers. I have had the honor to meet in person many of these people that I met originally online. In fact, that was one of the driving reasons behind planning my first conference.

I may know a presenter’s background and expertise or I may not. I know that I already respect the people with whom I have developed relationships with and value their opinions. So, it behooves me to foster these relationships. While I have many people I consider friends online who I have never met, it makes the relationship much more real and concrete to meet people in person. Similarly, it is rare that many opportunities present themselves to meet other teachers outside of your school district besides conferences. Conferences provide opportunities to meet and network with other talented and dedicated educators.

While having great presenters and engaging sessions is extremely important to a good conference, it is not longer paramount. This is because networking allows learning to continue long after the conference has ended. Knowing this, it becomes easier to plan for it. Instead of filling up every hour of your itinerary with sessions, try leaving some space open specifically to network. Do not be afraid to go up to people and introduce yourself. Educators are mostly open and caring people who want to share their experience; some just need the door opened for them to do so.

  • http://ilearntechnology.com ktenkely

    I agree, the real draw and “addiction” of the conference is the connections that are made. It is great to meet with other educators and talk about our passion for teaching and learning.
    ktenkely´s last blog post ..Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus Lesson

  • http://www.facsbook.org Chrissy

    I agree. I have met some incredible people at conferences. I am always inspired be the work of others. I think it’s interesting that conferences have become SO expensive in the past few years and yet hanging out in the lobby or going out to dinner with other educators always seems to be the most educational part of the experience. I think that is probably why and such an avid blog reader, it is the personal interaction that matters.