Conferences: Spreading the Love (an #eltchat summary)

This is a summary of the 9pm BST #eltchat on Twitter from Wednesday 6th April 2011. The topic was:

How can participants at conferences best ensure that what they learn lives on and spreads?

The chat involved people with a large variety of experience regarding conferences, ranging from none at all to serial presenters, as well as conference organisers. It fell nicely into various categories, making summary writing nice and easy!

Why go to conferences?

  • @cerirhiannon: “I find really motivating talks usually lead to experimenting, blogging and eventually presenting”
  • @TyKendall: “He who dares to teach must never cease to learn” John Cotton Dana.
  • @naomishema “I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to last year’s TESOL and it was an eye opening experience which led to blogging and twitter.”
  • @cioccas: “I always feel reenergised after a conference & buzzing with new ideas I want to share with colleagues. Also after every #ELTchat !”
  • @lauraesol: “After a session last year at IATEFL, I found I got so excited about the content I had to repeat it all to friends!”
  • @bcnpaul1: “Last year was my first IATEFL & changed my outlook hugely. Maybe people just need to get the development bug”
  • @ELTmethods: “Conferences are not only about collecting ideas. The social element is vital, too: meeting people with the PD bug”
  • @sandymillin: “Definitely worth it! Motivating, great for networking and fun too (mostly!)”
  • @theteacherjames: “If you benefit, your students benefit, & that makes it worth it. Anything else is a bonus.”
  • @Marisa_C: “Going to a face-to-face conference is very important – recharges human batteries”
  • @springrose12: “If nothing else happens, educators get to meet with each other and share good practice as well as socialize. It’s good to know that you’re not alone and others can help you with difficulties.”
  • Meeting the ‘stars’: @lauraesol “Won’t ever forget John Wells and feeling so much more confident about pronunciation after talking to him.” “Biggest moment was getting Jim Scrivener’s autograph!” / @marekandrews: “@lauraesol I got Jeremy Harmer to sign his book, asked him to write advice for my trainees+showed it to them next time”

How to decide which sessions to attend

  • Think about what is most useful for you and your colleagues
  • Try to find articles, blog entries, videos of talks or tweets from speakers you’re interested in seeing
  • Coordinate with your colleagues to attend different sessions, then share experiences, insights, handouts etc afterwards.
  • Decide whether you want to go to practical sessions, theoretical ones or a mix of both.
  • Take a chance on some less well-known presenters – that’s how they become well-known. Also, they are often in the classroom more regularly so can be more relevant.
  • Prioritise! Try not to get overwhelmed.

What presenters can do to make their presentations memorable

  • Keep it as simple as possible.
  • Get to the point.
  • Include a variety of activities in workshops: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic…
  • Try alternative visual aids: flipcharts are still in!
  • Let participants talk so they don’t get restless.
  • Don’t be afraid of using technology.
  • Be genuine
  • Have something to say
  • Try to make a connection with the audience: engage.
  • Get ‘personal’.
  • Upbeat, but not too up!
  • Listen to your audience.
  • Don’t read aloud from your Powerpoint.
  • Provide handouts (laminated if possible for reading in the bath!), or a link to a blogpost – or one handout, with everything else online so your session can be discussed at lunch
  • If the audience fall asleep, start being controversial
  • Inject a bit of humour and originality
  • Think about what your audience wants and needs to know
  • Chat to some of your audience after you’ve finished to get feedback and learn from them too. Good for shy people too.

What participants can do during a conference

  • Give a workshop at the conferences you attend.
  • Try to go to the conference with other teachers and chat about what you have seen.
  • Try to talk to the presenter and other participants to keep it in your memory.
  • Use Twitter to share your thoughts – those who cannot normally attend conferences are especially grateful for this. You can also use it as a form of note-taking. Consider asking the speaker beforehand and / or only tweeting during Tweeter’s talks. Take a look at the debate on Jeremy Harmer’s blog about whether or not you should tweet.
  • Follow Twitter hashtags during a conference: you might notice something you’ve missed / OR Don’t follow them, you might miss something!

What participants can do after a conference

Find out what works for you: old school or new school. Take a look at some of the ideas below:

  • Tell your colleagues about what you saw. “When I was at…I met… and he/she…”
  • Blog about what you saw, thus prompting further discussion of topics. Conferences even prompted some to start blogging for the first time.
  • Even if you don’t want to blog about the conference, you can make comments on other people’s posts.
  • Type the notes you take, then categorise them into files on your computer, making them easy to retrieve when needed. This also makes it easier to email them to people if you want to share them.
  • Go back to your notes a while later and remind yourself of what you’ve read.
  • Try things out in class as soon as possible so that you don’t forget them.
  • Keep a teaching diary (which could be a blog) to use for post-conference reflections.
  • Watch any post-conference videos and share them with colleagues.
  • Correspond with speakers at conferences to inspire you to make the transition between listening and doing (@naomishema: “Even famous David Crystal answered me!”)
  • Share your knowledge in small groups / during department meetings
  • Follow up on any recommended reading.
  • Follow up on contacts to consolidate connections made. This may lead to forms of cooperation in the future.
  • Set aside a quiet hour to go through what documentaton you have and think through what you got out of the conference.
  • Look at your notes on the way home and decide which ideas to apply next.
  • Keep the conference booklet.
  • Not all ideas may be practical for your classes – be selective.
  • Introduce Twitter and other sharing tools to your colleagues to help them become more digitally aware and to be able to participate in the post-conference sharing.
  • Rely on your memory!

What presenters / conference organisers can do during/after a conference

  • Make a list of seminar participants and their contact details and email them to each other.
  • Ask speakers if they mind being filmed / recorded.
  • Stream sessions online, as ISTEK did. Alternatively, release them online for people to watch (months) later.
  • Provide wifi for attendees to share their impressions.
  • Share materials online. For example, the IH Brno Conference (a one-day one at my school) created a group on Edmodo and gave attendees the code so that they could get any handouts they wanted. Alternatively, put slides online using a tool like Slideshare, a wiki or a blog.
  • Put out a newsletter after the conference with summaries of lectures a couple of months later.
  • Create an informal ‘buddy’ system with your PLN to give feedback on each other’s talks at a conference.

What schools can do after a conference

  • Encourage teachers to give a workshop / CPD session to share what they learnt. Small groups could prepare a demonstration about a topic if a few of them saw the same talks.
  • Ask colleagues to choose ONE topic which deeply affected them each time: demanding to share everything could be too overwhelming.
  • Keep a collective training blog for teachers.
  • Create a wiki with colleagues and link powerpoints or videos plus start a discussion.
  • Record speakers, then create worksheets based on the sessions – have a bank of talks and tasks.
  • Have a staff email list dedicated to post conference sharing.
  • Sponsoring teachers to go to conferences could really boost staff morale.
  • Encourage a culture of sharing in general – this makes it easier for teachers to share after conferences.

Possible problems and solutions

  • Other people in the staffroom are not interested in the conferences you attend.
    Keep sharing – your enthusiasm will hopefully get through to your colleagues eventually! You could also try to spend more time with people who ARE responsive. Teacher development is a mindset.
  • Some conferences are very expensive to attend.
    Try to access the materials in other ways, through videos, Twitter, blogs etc. Sometimes it’s better to bite the bullet – conferences offer you many benefits. If you’re paying for it, go for what you’re interested in. Your teacher development comes first.
  • Speakers often have to pay to present.
    Some people were annoyed about this, but others said that they are presenting for 45 minutes and watching 1-3 days of sessions, so are happy to pay. Dave Dodgson blogged about speakers paying to attend conferences too.
  • Tweeting during conferences (Jeremy Harmer’s blog discussion) could be bad for the presenter. Also, some people complained about the lack of context.
    Many people would still go to see a talk even if they had seen it tweeted.
  • Online conferences don’t match up to a face-to-face environment
    Use Twitter to get some of the socialising / networking side. It’s also better to watch online than not take part at all! Online conferences can also make people more willing to participate.
  • The number of ideas can be overwhelming
    Be selective: just a handful of ideas can make a big difference .

Conferences to look out for

Other links shared

14 thoughts on “Conferences: Spreading the Love (an #eltchat summary)

  1. This is brilliant! Thanks, wish I could have joined this conversation. Conferences are a huge part of my life. Busy preparing for the new school year now but will tweet this and comment much more in the near future. Cheers!


  2. Dear Sandy,

    You say in your summary: “If you’re paying for it, go for what you’re interested in. Your teacher development comes first”

    Is it common for teachers to pay out of their own pockets to attend and/or present at conferences? IATEFL will be my first experience and when I look at the collected cost of the plane ticket, other transportation and fees plus accomodation I doubt I would ever be willing/able to pay that much for PD myself. I can only go because someone else is paying.



    1. Hi Karin,
      I think unfortunately it depends on the context and the conference. For example, my school will help with money towards one-day conferences, but a big conference like IATEFL would be beyond their means. Next year, when I hope to be teaching in England, I would be willing to pay to go myself because I know it would benefit me hugely.
      Other people are free to add their opinions!


  3. Hi Sandy and Karin,
    I agree with Sandy. It all depends on the context. It’s not just a case of what, if anything your school will contribute. I also depends on where you want to go professionally. I think my experience is a pretty good example of the situation for foreign teachers in Japan.
    When I started I worked for a language school. Any “professional development” offered to me by my school was internal, and almost all of it came within the first 3 months. After that it was just an observation by the trainer and a chat after that. Fortunately, however, I came across an advertisement for a local Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) chapter meeting. The price was affordable – about the same as a pint, so I went with a colleague from my school. Well, I enjoyed the meeting and eventually I joined JALT. That cost about 10 pints. I payed, and I payed for any real professional development I got after that: conferences, books, journals, and so on. The internet was just starting out, so I had no access to online communities and free academic articles. I realised that I wanted to become a proper teacher with a good secure job and the best way to do that was to get work at a university. To do that I needed a Masters and publications. So, I got on the M.Ed TESOL programme at Temple University’s Japan campus. It wasn’t until almost 5 years after I started this process that I got an employer to pay for me to attend a conference. When I got a full time job at a high school, the high school paid for me to attend a conference once in 4 years, but I still attended many conferences in Japan, and one conference in Beijing – all on my own dime. When I finally got full-time work at a university I got an allowance for conferences. My conference allowance pays for one overseas conference. I pay for almost all the conferences that I attend in Japan. I have to. I have to publish and present and that means I have to attend conferences. I attend at least 4 or 5 conferences every year. Most every university teacher I know has done the same, and I know some dedicated teachers at every other level who do it as well. Of course, most people who attend the conference are university teachers, because others can’t afford it. One thing about the JALT conference that is at least a little attractive for primary and secondary teachers is that it is recognised by the Japanese Ministry of Education – so it counts toward fulfilling professional development requirements.
    Well, sorry for the long post. Hope what I’ve written has added some light to the subject. Cheers!


    1. Hi Michael,
      Thanks for such a brilliant insight into where conferences can take you. I agree that professional development ultimately has to be your own choice, and while it would great if employers paid for it all, in the real world it’s not normally feasible. Until we get paid footballers’ wages, it’s probably going to stay this way!


  4. I love presenting and attending talks at conferences and meeting people f-t-f but I am aware that I am in a privileged situation and that not everyone can get to such events. This was one of the reasons why I set up where you can watch keynote talks from some of the big hitters in TESOL such as David Nunan, Keith Johnson, Anne Burns or Paul Nation to name but a few, all from the comfort of your own home. Not as good as a conference I grant you, but certainly better than nothing!


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