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Getting Ready for Conference Season

September 12, 2010

We are in the midst of what might be described as eLearning conference season. There are conferences happening throughout the year, but a number of them seem to be concentrated in the August to November timeframe. I am involved in four events (how did that happen?!) in the next nine weeks, so now is the time to get ready. It’s a personal goal of mine to attend two professional conferences per year. In some years the budget, location, and timing stars align and more are added to the schedule, but two is a reasonable goal with some purposeful planning.

Choose

The conference opportunities for instructional designers and technologists are many to say the very least. (Take a look at the sites provided on this previous post: Professional Conferences in ID, IT, Distance Ed… includes several conference search sites in the Updates). We can’t attend them all so we have to choose carefully.

  • Niche – Conferences range from large and broad to quite small with very specific topics.  What is your professional focus now (K-12, business and industry, higher ed)? What would you like to learn more about (virtual worlds, technology resources and decisions, course development, a specific content area)? Conferences can also be a great way to branch out and explore something new.
  • Budget – Funding is an issue for all of us these days. Look for registration options that allow you to attend part of an event, pay by-the-day, or just expo/vendor rooms. Consider what the conference fee covers in terms of receptions and meals. There are more online conferences these days – the registration fees for these seem to be significantly less and there’s no cost for travel and lodging. Many traditional conferences are also now offering virtual tracks taking place simultaneously with the face-to-face schedule. (You can present virtually, too!)
  • Location – You will find interesting events all over the country and in a lot of international locations. You can also look specifically in your area. This can be a budget or time driven decision. You might be surprised at some of the smaller events taking place at the regional level, at local campuses, and within the local business/industry sector.  Smaller events also lend themselves to an easier networking process.
  • Timing – Scheduling conference attendance around your workload can be tricky. Look for events that take place over a weekend and/or holiday. It’s not unusual to work a conference into a vacation, especially if the event is held in a resort-type location.

Prepare

Conferences can be significant investments in terms of time and resources, so get a game plan together before you go. Here are several posts with tips on preparation. Some targeting specific events, but all offer great advice no matter the conference.

Dan McCarthy – How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

  • Dan suggests taking time to see the local area if you are traveling to the event. My dissertation advisor was a fan of this, too. Otherwise it’s just hotels and airports. And they all look pretty much the same. Take advantage of the location.

Chris Brogan – 9 Ways to Rock the BlogWorld Expo

  • I particularly like the recommendation to “bring three good questions.” Make them specific and work on seeking out the answers through sessions and conversations.

Inc. –  How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

  • Among Inc.’s tips: start networking before the event begins. This is getting easier with social networking tools like Twitter.

Participate

You’ve gone to the trouble to get to the dance, so… dance! Attend the sessions, ask questions, network between sessions and at receptions. Networking is often a major reason to attend a conference, and depending on your goals, may be a more important use of your time than the sessions. Think about your goals for the event. What do you want to take-away?

  • Present – Consider submitting a proposal to be on the schedule. This process usually takes place well in advance, but can provide you with additional experience, exposure, etc. And it doesn’t have to be just you up there. Think about projects you are working on with others and collaborate on a session. Presenters often get a reduced registration rate as well.
  • Volunteer – Look for opportunities to help with registration, introduce sessions, moderate panels. Students often get a discount for this kind of thing. It’s also a good way to meet people, especially the conference organizers.
  • Share – Tweet from the sessions! Share links, insights, your observations. Others in your circle will be interested, too. Blog about what you learned and keep the conversations going. Share your notes with colleagues. Take a look at this post from Michael Gray on how to use Evernote to document your conference experience.

Never been to a conference?

As with most things, it’s about taking the first step – create a short list of events you would like to attend in the next year. Then check out the websites, review last year’s program, look for proposal and registration deadlines, and put your plan together to attend. Get it on your calendar.

Experienced conference attendee?

Please share your tips here! What are your favorite ways to choose, prepare, and participate?

Photo credit: Leo Reynolds, Flickr

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