In the past few years I have been fortunate enough to attend several arts integration and STEAM conferences. This year I found myself presenting at two of the three conferences I was attending, and have since deemed myself a professional conference attendee! An entire article could be written on deciding what conferences to attend and the (tedious) process of applying for school support, but I will save that for another day and write under the assumption that you have already obtained permission from your school or county. Here are some quick tips to help you stay focused and on your A-Game while attending a conference.
1. Stay as close to the conference as possible
Conferences generally take place at hotels or convention centers and usually have blocks of rooms reserved in association with the conference. Staying at these rooms usually gets you a slightly reduced hotel rate in addition to prime real estate close to the conference site. I have tried to save money by staying at a slightly cheaper hotel on the outskirts of the city, or by staying with nearby family, but staying in the same hotel as your conference can’t be beat.
2. Determine your schedule for each day of the conference in advance
Some conferences even have apps for your phone with the ability to make electronic agenda selections. Conferences generally have a myriad of presenters speaking at the same time in different locations. It would be beneficial for you to prioritize your entire schedule prior to rolling your luggage through the revolving front door. If you are attending with a colleague or peer, consider splitting up to attend different talks or sessions and meeting up for dinner or drinks afterward to debrief and share notes.
Additionally, consider giving yourself a lunch break, time to use the restroom, and the opportunity to grab an overpriced latte. I have found that I am often so anxious racing to get to my next conference session, especially when sessions are spread out in a large building or set of buildings, that I will go the entire day without rest. If you know of a lull in your schedule, you can make sure to take some time for yourself without missing an important discussion or lecture. Once you have completed your schedule, make an electronic copy for your phone or a hard copy for your sketchbook. It may also be helpful to print a map of the hotel or conference center and familiarize yourself with the basic layout. No need to memorize room numbers, but it is good to at least know building names and geographical points of reference. Remain flexible but know you are armed with a plan!
3. Set an out-of-office response on your school email account
Let your peers, and the clamoring hordes of students and parents, know what days you will be gone and be sure to set an automated response on your email so that you aren’t distracted by things happening back at your school while you are trying to focus on the conference.
4. Avoid the registration or check-in line
You can often save money by registering for a conference via mail or the internet if you book your ticket a few months in advance. Even after obtaining a ticket, though, it is best to check in as close to the start time as possible. In my experience, I have found that lines often peak in the midmorning hours and after lunch on the first day of the conference as people arrive from out of state and take some time to become settled.
5. Pack a day bag
Even if you are staying in the same hotel as the conference it is likely you will be running from room to room all day with little or no time to take a break. I advise having a refillable water bottle, a sketch pad and pens, business cards (if you have them), your conference registration or name tag, a few (quiet) snacks, your phone or laptop charger, and an empty tote bag. Some conferences offer samples of art supplies or curriculum and it is always useful to have an extra bag to stow your garnered art supplies or lesson plan samples.
6. Before each session begins, ask the presenter if his or her presentation is available online, or if it can be emailed to you
By doing this, you prevent yourself from taking notes from the PPT or SMARTnotebook for the duration of the presentation, and then finding out during the Q and A in the last ten minutes that the entire slideshow is available online. If the presentation is not available online, consider sitting towards the front of the presentation room and taking pictures with your phone or iPad of each of the slides, then you are free to take notes on those slides electronically or in your sketchpad without feeling rushed. I personally use Notability (an iOS app) that allows you to record audio, type, draw, and integrate photos from the camera.
7. Explore the city
If you are in a new location for the conference, make sure to check with a conference resource to see if you are eligible for reduced or free entry to local museums or attractions. Often, conferences partner with local arts centers and museums to offer a discounted ticket! I highly suggest taking time from your schedule or in the evening to visit local museums, art centers, and theaters.
8. Follow up with presenters
After presentations are over, ask for the speakers business card or write down their email. They may not have time to answer all your questions right away but you can always email them once you are back in your hotel room for the evening with any additional comments or conversation.
9. Consider attending mixers or dinners in the evenings
At every conference I have ever attended there have been specialized dinners or mixers in the evenings with groups that might be local or affiliated with your school or institution in some way. These events might seem like a struggle after a long day, but they are so wonderful for connecting with like-minded individuals, networking, and forming a professional learning community.
10. Share your new knowledge with your colleagues
Once you return to your school or art institution after the conference, do your best to hold a professional development session or a less formal sharing session with your peers. Use the notes you took to keep colleagues abreast of all current research in your field and any newfound teaching techniques you may have uncovered at the conference. Do your best to share your experience with the people who you work with!
Speaking of conferences…have you registered for our upcoming online Arts Integration and STEAM conference? You’ll get the best of the conference experience all from the comfort of home. No matter how you get your PD, these 10 tips can help you make the experience meaningful and time worthy.
Jaime Patterson is the Executive Director of Creative Affairs for EducationCloset. She is passionate about supporting educators in their pathway to teaching and learning through arts integration and STEAM.