5 Tips for a Great Conference Experience

If you're like me, you might be spending your Spring Break at a conference or convention soaking up all the tips and tools you can absorb over just a few days. I was very luck to be able to attend my first large scale event as a senior in college when I was sponsored to attend NSTA (National Science Teacher Association) Conference in Indianapolis. I am so grateful for this experience because it immediately showed be the value of getting out of your own backyard, growing your network, and continuing to be a good learner.

Over the last several years I have attended and now presented at many conferences. Here are my top 5 tips to make your next conference experience a great one!

#1 Plan your first conference day before you leave home

Conferences are incredibly busy, full of a multitude of sessions, exhibitors, special events, and meals squeezed in between everything else. When I arrive in my final destination, frequently after a flight and a ride to get to my hotel, I am typically hungry and tired. I don't want the stress of figuring out what I am going to attend first the next morning. It is so nice to know that my first day is planned out and just be able to relax and settle in when I arrive.

#2 Bring a good backpack and start with it empty

This may sound silly, but if you have been to a big conference, you know how many things you are going to be acquiring. In this age of technology, you will hopefully acquire a little bit less than you used to. Be prepared to fill your backpack. I recommend trying to not take a flyer from every vendor. Sometimes it is helpful to just get their business card rather than their large booklet of information. 

#3 Don't try to write everything down

Most of the time your presenters are going to post their materials to the conference app or site. Even if they aren't posted, you (just like our students) will not have time to write it all down. Consider sketchnoting, bullet pointing, or just capturing the highlights. Most speakers are very willing to answer questions via email or Twitter after the event. If you write every word they say, you may miss the most important parts.

#4 Schedule multiple trips to the expo/exhibit hall

Vendors are awesome! You will need to spend some serious time in the exhibit hall. For me, it is too much to take in at once and I cannot fit all the goodies in my bag in one day. I try to schedule an hour the first day and then decide from there how much additional time I will need. It may be worth it to not pick a session for one of the time slots and use that time to talk to vendors about tools and opportunities. 

#5 People not things are the greatest resource at a conference

While we go to conferences to learn new things and find new tips, we also go to conferences to meet new people. One of the best pieces of advice I got before my third NSTA conference was to make business cards. It cost me $5 on VistaPrint and it made exchanging contact info with vendors and other teachers way easier. I now have business cards I can take with me to events! The people you meet at conferences are an incredible resource. You may learn more from the person sitting next to you at a session than the presenter. 

I'm at NCEA right now and will be at ISTE next! Safe travels and happy learning! 

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