My 5Ps of Conferences

I spent time and money to attend an education conference during these holidays. I attended with a group of friends, passionate educators from different sectors and states, all who I initially made online connections with, before I met face to face. My takeaways from this conference were perhaps not what I had expected.

Due to the many experiences of this conference, I have had cause to reflect on why I choose to attend conferences. And I have come up with my criteria for conference sessions.

My 5Ps of conferences…..

Provoking : I want presenters to provoke my thinking, deeply and powerfully, or to add significantly to my body of knowledge. I want to add to what I know, be challenged by what I know and walk away a richer and better educator for the experience. And I want to talk about it.

Pondering : I want to be left with thoughts, ideas and experiences that resonate with me long after I leave. I want to still be processing ideas, days, weeks even months later.  

Pedagogy : Unless I have chosen to attend a conference or sessions that are advertised as specifically tool based, I want the pedagogy to be VISIBLE. We don’t engage our learners because something is fun, we engage our learners because what we are doing in the classroom is challenging, significant and relevant, and that’s what makes it fun. So share with me, talk to me about the learning behind it, why the experience was fun for your students, what made it challenging, significant and relevant. Thats what I want to know. I want to see beyond the smoke and mirrors.

Passion : I want to be enthused by the passion of the speakers, I want to believe that they believe in what they are doing, I want to share in their excitement and knowledge. I don’t want to be read to, talked at or fall asleep. 

Personal Stories : I want to know why presenters have chosen to share their work, I want to hear their stories, their successes and their challenges. I want to feel that they care enough about their audience to make an investment in and commit to what they are doing. 

Conversations before, during and after sessions are critical to my definition of a great conference. Conversations that challenge my thinking, bring new perspectives, question ideas and add to my learning. Conversations that acknowledge the ‘brains trust’ – the shared knowledge in the room. Having many qualities of an introvert, I generally choose to engage in these conversations with people I know, or have been introduced too. Choosing to talk to people I don’t know can be way to stressful, however I do appreciate opportunities that enable conversations and connections to be made.

During the most recent conference I attended, I found choosing sessions a challenge. I wanted be made to think, to learn from others, to engage in conversation, to ask questions and to leave still processing ideas. Sometimes I sat in a session, thinking I’d made the wrong choice. I was struggling to find my takeaways. That doesn’t mean that others didn’t have takeaways but I didn’t. Some or all of the Ps were missing for me. And reading the tweet stream I really wished I was in other sessions. I wonder how we can go about solving this issue?

Generally conferences are predictable, there is a format that is followed. Start the day with a keynote, then a series of workshops or presentations. I wonder if others like me, would be interested in hearing a short snippet of all the sessions on offer in a timeslot – before they made their choice. So often a written précis doesn’t convey a true picture. Surely in this day and age – a video with 2 minutes of each presenter could be available, to assist with session selection.

This tweet from @enrite, reflects my thinking and partly contributed to the writing of this post, along with a challenge from @ccoffa.

#acec2014 to quote Gary Stager, “engage me or enrage me”. That means feed my head, give me why, give me big ideas; provoke me to think.

I would be interested to know what others think.

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2 Responses to My 5Ps of Conferences

  1. Katara Jade says:

    Hi, if you have room in your professional life to attend our Conversations on Knowledge for Teaching conference in February 2015, you’re most welcome to analyse whether we live up to your 5Ps. I think we’re there on many points, hopefully we’ve communicated that on our website well enough. And the 2 minute videos idea was floated, but lack of budget for this means it hasn’t eventuated. Instead, we’re adding presenter abstracts in a conversational format – more to come still – it is certainly an evolving conference. Look forward to meeting you.

    Kind Regards
    Research Assistant
    Faculty of Education
    University of Tasmania

  2. Aaron Davis says:

    Interesting post Margo,
    I love the point about short videos, although even the videos can be gamed. I came to the decision that conferences are what we make them. I felt that the best moments that happened at the recent GAFE Summit were those where people interjected, asked a question, followed their own wonderings. I went with the idea that conferences are about ideas, connections and new solutions. However, I think I like your breadth a bit more.

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