Saturday, November 30, 2019

10 Reasons Why People Are The Best Part of Conferences

I've recently been to two education conferences, back-to-back: the AMLE conference in Nashville, and the IETC conference in Springfield, where I was fortunate to be named a featured speaker! I was thinking back on these experiences and how much I enjoyed it... and it dawned on me that although the sessions are full of information, useful tips, and new strategies to try, my absolute favorite part of conferences = the people!

As I reflected on why I felt this way, I came up with 10 reasons why people are the best part of conferences. And then I sketchnoted it, because that's what I do. :) Here goes:

10 Reasons Why People Are The Best Part of Conferences

1. Selfies!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. It's fun to document all of the people you meet via selfies. Beth told me that I always make the same face. She's not wrong:

2. Social media does NOT equal real-life.

I know a lot of people solely from social media, so it's extra awesome to get to meet them IRL. I mean, it's always awkward for me because I'm terrible at small talk but I'm truly excited when I see them in physical form and try my best to be exciting and interesting back.

3. People can be energizing.

So, I'm actually an introvert IRL (hence the awkward first meetups) and I do need to go hide in my hotel room/back at home, and I'm exhausted at the end of the day, but it is also really energizing to get to meet people who are excited about education and have fun new ideas to talk about. It's good to be around other passionate educators who think like you do!

4. It's your extended support family.

People will come to your sessions because they're your friends and will sit in the crowd and just be a positive encouraging presence. I remember being super nervous to present at ISTE this year, and I looked out at the 140-ish people in the audience... and then I saw Alicia! She smiled and waved and it made me feel better.

5. Cheering on your friends!

On the flipside, you get to go watch your friends' sessions and cheer them on! Depending on how well you know your friends, you can holler at them and crack jokes. Or sing along at karaoke before the session starts (looks at Adam and Mike)...

6. Travel BFFs.

Either traveling with or meeting up with a friend (or friends) that you can tag along with for the experience is extra cool. In the case of IETC, my travel BFF was Terence. We got to present together, we had automatic lunch table partners, and we had a buddy to peruse the vendor hall. Also, during evening festivities, it's always nice to have a friend looking out for you and making sure we all get "home" safely.

7. Expanding your network.

When I meet someone IRL that I previously only knew online, it feels really cool when they're super nice and act like we've been friends for ages! I had an experience at EdCamp not too long ago when my husband and I were asked to go to lunch with a bunch of friends - some brand-new, some previously acquainted - just be brought into the fold was so amazing and welcoming! I hope to pay it forward - my #LAX18 family can meet my #ILSTOY family, and the network grows.

Shawn models the exclusive "Mrs Leban on a beach ball" sticker. :)

8. Personalized PD.

Talking to folx at a conference - those informal conversations - are the ultimate in personalized PD! You find commonalities and expertise in areas that apply to your specific situation and are super relevant. Sometimes you'll have a conversation with someone that sparks an idea - or connects you to a friend-of-a-friend that can help you out with a project!

9. The unexpected!

Meeting people and making connections are great, but it's often the things you learn that are completely unexpected that leave some of the biggest impacts on you! Some of my conference experiences are a direct result of being introduced to someone else by a friend, and weeks later we connect for a future project or event. Even the most casual conversations had in the evening over drinks can spark inspiration for something else. Just keep your mind open and you'll be amazed at what you can find!

10. Gains beyond the sessions.

I guess all of the items above technically qualify as gains "beyond the sessions," but interacting and networking with people at conferences has really helped me with my social anxiety, awkwardness, and given me lots of practice in a super welcoming and relatively safe environment. Teachers are rad, and they understand (and put up with!) my weird awkwardness, but also passion and excitement when it comes to education.

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How about you - what's your favorite part about going to conferences? Do you get to go to conferences? I know a lot of schools won't pay for teachers to go (mine typically won't - but that's a conversation for another post!) - but sometimes you get that once-a-year opportunity... what do you most look forward to? 

- Mrs L.

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