This post is a summary of the #AusELT Twitter chats of July and August 2017.
I’d like to extend a very big thank you to everyone who took part during the chats as well as those who commented and made suggestions afterwards. Unlike our other chats where we have used Storify to summarise the chats, this post is a step by step summary that will hopefully be easy to follow and help all of us make the most of the conferences we attend both in terms of learning and networking. We are publishing it now with all eyes on the upcoming English Australia conference, but the information will be useful for any other conferences as well.
Before the conference
Planning is a key element in making the most of a conference. These before tips focus mostly on activating your contact list and planning what you intend to learn at the conference.
- Research the presenters
This gives you a hook to chat about later and might make it easier to approach the presenter and thank them for the session or ask questions. It also helps with structuring which sessions you can or should attend and which you might not learn much from.
- Read about the topic of presentations
In classrooms we try to activate students’ background knowledge before dealing with a topic. Going into a session with that ‘schemata’ already activated and with some additional knowledge about the topic allows you to make more of the session.
- Get your questions ready before the session
Go into a session with questions you want answered and if the speaker doesn’t answer them ask. Presenters generally appreciate questions and if you do ask a question they cannot answer, most presenters will get back to you via email.
- How will you record ideas and link contacts?
Plan ahead on how you will make notes. I personally scribble all kinds of strange symbols that make sense to only me, but it helps me to scan over my notes to find things I wanted to read more about later, or an idea I wanted to try in a classroom. It also helps me to find ideas in all my notes that I intended to share with colleagues or friends.
- Prep essentials charger, phone, business cards, money, etc.
This seems like a very obvious one, but it is better to make a list of all the things you need and be sure to check them of the list as you pack.
- Look at the program and plan your day
Find out who else is going and try to cover more sessions by splitting up and sharing later of possible. Sometimes it is also nice to be in a session with someone you know. If it’s a long or complex program, select a theme to follow.
During the conference
- Split up
As a group, don’t go to all the same sessions. Share questions, split up, make notes, meet up and share. This allows you to make the most of the conference in more than one way. If you hear others talking about a session that you didn’t attend and you are comfortable with doing so, ask them some questions.
- Plan what you will leave with
The freebies are great, but remember you have to carry them in your luggage later.
- Rest in between
Take time to reflect mid conference. Pace yourself. You need time to reflect and ensure that the plan you came with is being followed.
Make notes in the sessions and walk in with your questions so your notes match them as far as possible. Take part in the session especially if it is a workshop. Use a structure that works for you.
- Make contacts
Make contact with people you can network with after. Tweet during the conference and/or post on social media. It allows other people to notice you.
Take pictures with people you connect with, or sessions you are in, so you can remember them later on.
After the conference
- Email the presenter
Most presenters make their email addresses available. I appreciate a thank you mail and I am sure most other presenters do to. Thanking them for the session and the information is a nice gesture that could lead to future contacts.
- Plan time to think about new info and share
It is important to reflect and put into practice what you have learned. Sharing with colleagues also allows you to reflect more deeply.
Try new ideas and write reflections. Evaluate how effective they were or not and adjust. Then when you are planning your next conference, use these reflections to structure the questions that you plan beforehand.
- Share with colleagues and create discussion groups online or F2F
Compare notes to previous conferences and look for overlap, holes that could generate new questions and other things you need to find out. Uses the ‘Question – Learn – Reflect – Question’ cycle.
5. Create a mini PD share ideas with others.
Write a blog post about the conference or a session you attended there. Or maybe the theme you followed. AusELT will also be interested in these blog posts, so if you are planning one, please let us know and we can guide you through the writing if you are uncertain where to start or how to proceed.
6. Focus on your own learning and development post conference.
Make a record of new contacts and try to stay in touch whether through social media or in person if at all possible.
Networking can be very scary. A comment that quite a few participants made was about how we can be so confident to speak in front of a class, but so petrified to speak to individuals at conferences.
- Be interested and be less worried about being interesting
Ask questions and listen to what the other person is saying. It is far less intimidating than having to try and be interesting all the time.
- Food and drink allows you to avoid awkward silences
Meeting for a coffee or a drink makes it easier to hide awkward silences behind eating or drinking and people seem to be slightly more relaxed when there is food involved.
Presenting is a great way to get to know people. If the opportunity arises, submit a proposal and present. It is a great way to meet lots of people and you can dictate what the conversation is about as it will often be about the presentation.
Arrange with people you already know or people that you know online to meet up. This makes networking with others a lot easier as they might know people you don’t and you can be introduced.
- Have a goal in mind
Why are you networking? Usually it is to meet people, find a new job, connect with like-minded people, etc. Plan who you want to meet and what you will say as this will remove some of the ‘stage fright.’
- Research the presenters and other attendees
If you have researched presenters and other attendees, you will have something to talk about.
- Speak to the presenter afterwards if you have questions
This will be a lot easier if you have questions prepared. Also say how you felt about the presentation. It is repeated here as it was already mentioned above, but walking in with questions makes it so much easier to make contact.
Join the social program if the conference has one. There is also the opportunity to network during coffee breaks and lunch.
- Look around you
Find someone who was in a session with you and talk to them. This is even more important if it’s your first conference or if you don’t know anyone. Start with a standard opener like ‘I saw you in XYZ session. What did you think?’ Also, look for others who appear alone and talk to them. You are not alone in being alone.
- Manners make the person
Don’t snub or be mean. Mind your manners online and F2F. People remember if they were snubbed and it hurts, especially if it is your first conference and a more experienced person was mean to you. Everyone was new at some point in time.
- Make yourself approachable
Learn names, use names and wear name badges if they are available. If someone can see your name, they might be more willing to initiate conversation. Make your contact details available. Have business cards or make your email or social media contact information available so it is easy to connect with you.
- Be helpful to newbies
Think what you can give not what you can get.
- Have an accessible online presence
As important as it is to make the information available, you need to have a professional online presence. Avoid silly names or extreme political opinions. You can have two presences online. Make your professional one professional and accessible.
- Interact with new contacts
If people contact you, connect and interact. Keep in mind that it is not always what you can get, but more often what you can give that makes these connections worthwhile.
- Arrange collaborations or meet ups afterwards
It is so much easier to meet someone for a second or a third time. This also allows you to access contacts in their network and vice versa. Make use of these opportunities if they are available.
Another thank you to everyone who participated in making the two twitter chats a success and we hope that the notes above makes networking less intimidating and that you get to really maximise the benefit in each conference you attend.
Summary written by @heimuoshutaiwan