The Best Conference Ever

I might need to stop all blog posts from beginning with my own anxiety about my writing ability. Right away with this one I am ready to dive into how hard it is to title something but then I decided to be short and sweet so hopefully I’ll stick with that one. I am not sure if I’m great at titles or not but that seems to capture it.

I went to the 30th annual Learning Differences Conference in March and it was the best conference ever. Since then I have been trying to decipher what it was about this conference that made it the best ever hoping that other conferences (and there are a lot of them) that do not illicit this reaction in teachers could learn from this experience. So professional development developers take note; here is my current list of characteristics that make  the Best Conference Ever:

#1 There is no best, only best for the individual at that moment.

There is no “best conference ever”. There is however a conference where the content, delivery and setting strike a chord. They take prior knowledge and questions and crystalize it in a way that gives a new lens in which to process all previous knowledge and any new knowledge. Anyone who says anything even slightly related to the conference topic “gets” to hear why this was the best conference ever and exactly how it connected. This may or may not be related to a conference experience related via an extroverted processor in which I am the poster child.

#2 Sessions that illicit a need to talk, tweet, photo-document during and after

This second one may only be true for extroverted conference attendees. At a school mandated professional development several years ago the speaker started with identifying the difference between the introverted attendees who wanted to hear and process silently and the extroverted attendees who needed to talk and reflect about everything they heard. It was a nice way of making the people like me who talk too much be able to name and possibly hem in their behavior to be respectful of the introverts.

I notice that conferences I really like make me want to comment to my neighbors. I always take notes that rarely do I look at again but mostly to keep me paying attention. Lately some conferences have a Twitter hashtag and I find it useful to try to Tweet the gems I hear. However Dr. Margalit presented “Loneliness, Hope and Resilience in Students with Learning Differences: Theory and Implications for Practice” on Saturday. One variable she examined in her research was electronic communication.  She pointed out that it was sad that that people came all around the world to attend and were on their phones during the presentations. I wanted to explain to her after that I was tweeting about the conference but there may be a point to staying focused and not-tweeting during presentations.

Despite my tweeting I paid enough attention to refer to presentations, speakers and resources frequently.  Many of the initiatives I am working on for next year emerged from this conference.

#3 Presentations are thoughtfully arranged and connected

This seems obvious but too many conferences do not have a sense of continuity and the keynote talks are not linked together.  In a conference where the presentations are thoughtfully arranged and connected the breakout sessions can refer to the keynotes to help emphasize their point.  I have never arranged a conference but when this works I am sure it can be attributed to careful planning and communication.

#4 Presenters stick around and attend other sessions

When the conference is well organized and presentations build on each other it makes sense to see presenters attending other sessions.  At the Learning Differences conference it was also evident how much personal investment each speaker had in the issue of so they obviously wanted to see information on related topics.