I do think it is worthwhile taking the time to prepare for attending a conference, such as the ALT Conference in Liverpool in September
My first ALT conference was in 2003 in Sheffield, this was also one of the first “proper” conferences I had attended. After that conference I have attended many conferences here in the UK and abroad, but probably not as many as some people. I have attended as a delegate, a presenter, an invited speaker and have had the pleasure of delivering keynotes at various big conferences.
Now when attending a conference I make some preparations that will ensure I have a productive, informative and interesting time.
Attend it all…
Going for just a day may be all that is possible, but I would recommend attending all the days of the conference, so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience. It will also provide the time to do everything you would like to do at the conference.
Try to arrive before the conference starts and don’t leave until the end. There is nothing more frustrating and stressful than arriving late for a conference and sneaking into the back of the opening keynote. Wondering what you missed and probably a little flustered having rushed from the station and needing a decent cup of coffee.
Likewise, plan your travel so you don’t need to leave early and miss the final sessions and keynotes. Nothing is more soul destroying when presenting a session at the end of the conference and to find three people attending. I do recognise that the realities of life can mean you need to leave early, but planning in advance to attend all of the conference means that usually these can be avoided. You may miss something really useful and relevant.
Don’t bring work to the conference.
You may be away from the office and you may have stuff to do, but a conference is not the most conducive environment for working. You have paid a fee to attend, it makes sense to use that time for the conference and not catching up with stuff. A conference is quite a tiring affair, so even if you decide not to partake in the social side of things and get work done in the evening you may find that this isn’t that productive. I once struggled to finish an urgent report at a conference, it was a horrible experience as I struggled with poor wifi connectivity, phone calls and focused writing. The report seemed to take twice as long and was half the quality of my usual writing. My approach is to block the time out in the diary, ensure and deadlines are either before (or well after) the conference. Ensure everything is done before I go and avoid taking things on just before the conference. I also ensure everyone knows I will be away and will say “no” to things that I know I won’t be able to complete successfully because I am at the conference. I also put an “out of the office” notification on my e-mail account, so people will realise they won’t get a response from me.
There is a flip side to this, when you’re in the office and a colleague is at a conference, let them get the most out of the conference, don’t send them e-mails, requests, etc…. Wait until they are back!
Plan your day
Do review the programme and find stuff you want to attend, make a note of it and write it down (or use the conference app, add to your calendar). There is almost a separate blog post discussing what sessions to choose, so will focus on the planning side of things. Having reviewed the programme I make a note of not just the title of the session, but also which room it is in. If you want to move between parallel sessions, it is useful to check the distance between them, nothing worse when wanting to see two interesting sessions, but missing one of them as you hiked across to the other room.
Some sessions will be very popular, so make sure you arrive on time (or before). I have delivered some sessions where there was standing room only.
Prepare for sessions
I like to be engaged with sessions, this can be simply by using a notebook and pen and make notes. These days I generally do one of two things these days, I either tweet about the session, not just posting images and quotes, but also ask questions on the twitter which have come out of the session. I try and remember to always add the hashtag #altc. More recently I have been sketchnoting the session, which to be honest is more for me than for others, but I do publish my notes on Flickr (and on Twitter). See this post by me on sketchnoting.
If you have questions, write them down, otherwise you may forget them. You probably won’t get picked to ask your question in a popular session, so why not post them on the Twitter or on the relevant session page on the conference website.
If you are presenting then have a look at my presentation tips in this previous blog post.
Prepare to chat
If you are shy and retiring like me, it can be challenging to engage people in conversations. I think it’s worth coming up with strategies to do deal with this. In sessions I always try and make the effort to introduce myself to the other people on the table, ask them where they are from and what they have enjoyed about the conference so far. Also come along to the ALT stand in the exhibition area where there will be ALT Trustees and valued members, who are more than willing to talk and chat (and make introductions if necessary).
Also engaging on Twitter before and during the conference can also make connections for good conversations and chats.
If you like decent coffee then for most conferences be prepared to be disappointed. Most conference coffee has been made in advance of time and left to stew for a while. It may have been made from instant coffee, or possibly filtered. Whatever way it was made it will taste like mud! Rather than try and guess where I can get a decent coffee from, I now do a quick search around to find somewhere I can go either before the start of the conference day, during a break or afterwards. These coffee places can also be great locations for ad hoc conversations and chats. You also don’t need to stand in that everlasting queue for coffee.
I can say I am looking forward to trying the coffee at this local roastery.
So how are you preparing for the ALT Conference.