How To Get The Most Out of the Conferences You Attend

Okay wow! You did it. You ponied up for that conference entrance fee, you reserved the hotel, made arrangements for travel! Substitute? Booked! You took a risk! You told yourself I’m a going to that conference! Good for you. Now, you wonder

Is it going to be worth it?

That’s a question I ask all of the time. And my answer now is always yes. And it’s yes as long as I, myself, MAKE it worth it! Great experiences at conferences aren’t just great because we go….they’re great because we made the most out of the experience. My answer to the “worth it question” used to be “I’m not sure it’ll depend on what resources I can get”That’s because my thinking years ago was that the conference and sessions were there to give me that next great activity or project, or worksheet to fill a gap in my unit. And don’t get me wrong conferences are good for that…..but there is so much more to get out of the conferences you attend.

Here are 4 ways to make the most out of the conferences you attend. So that you can always answer yes to the worth it question!

1. Build Your Community.

If you’re like me you’re an introvert. Yes, I shy away from social interaction. I’m that guy at a party standing off to the side with his one or two good friends and avoiding more social interaction. And let’s face it so many of us math teachers are introverts. It’s hard to be social. Going to a conference means we can gather new activities and lesson ideas for our classroom but another huge benefit is Networking. Imagine a group of math educators you could rely on. Imagine you could share your lesson ideas with this group;  get feedback from this group; they even teach like you! Maybe that’s your math department already? Maybe not. A conference is meant and partially designed for you to help create this group. It’s structured for you to easily meet new people who share similar interests. Here are a few tips to help create that group of teachers you need.

Bring a co-worker with you. You’re more likely to meet more people if you are not alone. You’ll have confidence to talk to other small groups. Grab those emails. Learn their twitter handles. You don’t need to do it alone.

Talk at your tables. I know you want to find a table where no one is sitting when you’re at a session but DON’T DO IT. Sit at one with other people. Interact with them. Sitting at the same table already puts you on their team. Now just get to know them. Work together while in that session and get their contact info before they leave if you feel they would make a great team member going further.    

Hit a Social event either before or during the conference. Many conferences will have a games night, trivia night, wine and cheese, or a dinner. Don’t skip on these. This is where so many great connections and friendships can be made. When I attended the annual NCTM conference in San Francisco in 2016 hanging out at Desmos’ games night and the Trivia night were huge aspects of making that conference great. I met so many great teachers that I feel are now apart of my Team!

2. Be Picky

Choose sessions where you recognize the presenter(s). If you recognize a presenters name its likely that you’ve used their activities or ideas from them in the past. By picking those presenters this time it’s highly likely that they will give you more good ideas to go with. When I started choosing sessions based on presenters my whole conference experience changed. It went from “maybe ill get one good idea to try in my classes” to getting a ton of new ideas and left me feeling refreshed and resilient! Even though I had maybe heard them speak before, by choosing them again I always felt rewarded. The conference was definitely “worth it”

I also highly recommend that if you find yourself in a session that you feel is clearly not right for you then leave. Sometimes we feel like it’ll hurt the presenters feelings or you feel that it’s our fault for choosing this session and we have to “stick it out” Don’t! Just get up and leave. And now….sneak into a different session!


3. Check Out The Goods

You probably have filled your schedule up with sessions but don’t forget to budget time to hit the publishers display area. Some conferences have huge value in this area. So many companies get booths just to show off their products to you. You never know what you’ll discover there. While I was at NCTM 2012 in Philly I stumbled across this small booth with this young guy named Eli. He showed me all about this new graphing software I could do on my new iPad or online for Free!! I was in love. Ever since that meeting I’ve been using Desmos in all my math classes. I’ve since gone on and joined a select few to become a Desmos Fellow. So definitely schedule time to check out the publishers area at your conference! It’s worth it.


4. One New Thing

Vow to implement 1 new thing you learn while at the conference. You may get lots of ideas and resources but how many will you actually implement? Thinking about all of those ideas at once can be overwhelming and may result in you not doing any of them. Choose one idea, one resource, one activity, or one routine to try out in your classes when you return. Let’s make it so that you WILL do it. Write down the “one thing” on paper or in your planner. But write it as if it’s past tense, like you’ve already done it. That way it’ll look like you are doing it. For example, if your “one thing” is to try random groupings as a routine then write “I randomize kids everyday when they come into the classroom” By writing it the past tense will help make you do it. Then plan to implement that change routinely. Make a schedule and stick to it. Don’t break the chain. For example, Jerry Seinfeld said that he writes everyday. Not just when he feels inspired or ready to write. He writes everyday. And he focuses on marking each day off on the calendar. A big X right through the day.  As he built up X’s he didn’t think of his goal of writing every day anymore, he just thought, “I can’t break the chain” Breaking the chain meant that he would have to start all over again. Breaking the streak is a more powerful motivator than just “I have to write”.  So set up your goal and then “Don’t Break The Chain”.

Whew! Once I started doing these tips and strategies my conference experience changed. They changed from “I hope it’s worth it” to “This experience is priceless”

Now, there’s a ton of tips listed for you to make your conference worth it above so I created a downloadable PDF for you. It’s a Conference Companion.

You can either print it out or use it digitally on your device. It has places for you to keep important information, like contacts you meet, new ideas, and hashtags. It even has a small scavenger hunt style reminder list along the edges.

Download the Conference Companion.

Go ahead and start making all the conferences you attend worth it!

Do you have tips we can add to this list? Please add a comment below.