With CUE this weekend and many more conferences coming up, I thought it would handy to share some tips on how to get the most out of ‘conference season’. OK there’s not really a season, but whether your going to your first conference this year or attend several each year, these tips may help you enjoy the conference experience and get more out of it.
- Turn your cellphone on vibrate. Sure, your at a tech conference and everyone is sporting the latest & coolest handhelds. But you’ve come to the conference to meet face-to-face with other educators. Engaging interpersonally helps build your network and prevents scowling looks from the presenter & attendees when your ringer goes off in the middle of a session.
- Bring a water bottle and/or personal coffee container. You’ll want water more than you think (hello, Palm Springs!) and this also makes you a more green conference-goer by not contributing to the pileup of disposable water bottles/coffee cups you’ll see everywhere in the convention center. If you’re on a budget (and what teacher isn’t?) also consider bringing your own snacks – conference food hover around baseball stadium prices. Of course, it pays to be in DEN – they’re more than generous in keeping attendees happy & fed at their sessions.
- Plan ahead. If there’s an intro session, attend it. You’ll get a good preview of what the speakers are like and perhaps find others interested in the same sessions.
- I know some in the tech ed community will disagree with me on this one, but take notes on a notepad. I still use resources I wrote down in conference sessions over two years ago. Of course, they’re now bookmarked in Delicious or a blogroll somewhere, but I wouldn’t have remembered them if I hadn’t written them down. You can use your laptop, but it’s more cumbersome and restrictive. What if you & some newly made friends decide to go out for lunch in town but you’ve got your laptop? You’ll have to carry it or go back to the hotel to secure it somewhere, this takes too much time. You can twitter, blog, facebook, & skype out your notes. Besides, if everyone is blogging, facebooking or otherwise backchannel during while a speaker is presenting, I wonder how much of the content going on there is discussion vs. distraction?
- In the expo hall, check out both new & older vendors – even ones you already use. Sometimes old vendors have upgrades or new products. If you’re like me, you may not always sign up for their email updates (just to keep my inbox manageable) but that means you could be missing out on something new & cool. It also pays for the reps to connect your face & name should you ever need a favor.
- With our CA state budget & many schools facing cutbacks, make a list of goals of what you want to learn or people you want to meet. “What new ways do I want to use tools we already have? Are there free resources that could do the job of that software tool I’ve been eyeing? What am I going to share with my colleagues when I return?” If you’re in a session and it’s not meeting your needs, leave. This is your valuable time (and possibly money). If you don’t see another session in the schedule that looks worthwhile, head to the expo – it’s likely a less crowded time to get goodies and see exhibits.
- Volunteer! You belong to the greatest professional network in education. If there’s a DEN booth, ask if you can help out. The smiling face or the authentic testimonial of another teacher is what got many of you into the DEN. While volunteering you’ll meet lots of people and gain stronger knowledge by sharing with others (just like teaching). Besides, if you don’t yet have any DEN gear, this might be a way to swing some. Afterall, you can’t represent with sporting some cool Discovery swag.