This is the summer of a lot of firsts for me; first time going to ISTE and many other conferences, first time going to certain states like Utah, first time doing an Ignite, first time going to NerdCamp (finally!) first time getting an award, and first time doing a lot of travelling by myself. So as I have been preparing to hit the road, I figured I cannot be the only one that is traveling to conferences by themselves this summer and thus needs some help on how to make the best of it. Behold, Pernille’s 10 travel tips for going to a conference all by yourself…
Make connections beforehand. If you are on Twitter, start following the hashtag of the conference and see who else will be there. I also know there are Facebook groups for some larger conferences and I have been joining some of those, just to make connections. Even if you are not into social media, Google the conference and see what comes up. I also try to scope out what type of social event there will be available to you beforehand so that you can go and meet people. No one should have to go through a conference by themselves.
Figure out your goal. The first conference I went to I tried to do it all; go to as many sessions as possible, meet new people, make meaningful connections, check out new products! And I was exhausted. So this summer it is all about meeting people. Yes, I want to learn, yes I want to see the new products, but I am focusing in one thing rather than all of them so that I can allow myself to take a break. Don’t try to do it all, do as much as you can and be excited about how much you accomplish.
Pack what you feel the most comfortable in. I like to dress up when I present, it is a professional respect thing for me, as well as something that gives me confidence when I have to speak. Even if I am not presenting, I look pulled together but always comfortable. Very rarely do I wear heels if I can wear sandals in summer, and I always dress in layers. Who wants to be cold all day? So find out what you feel your best you in and then see if that will work for you, if you are going to meet people, make sure you feel confident when you do.
Pre-brainstorm opening questions. I can be shy at times, particularly in large groups or when people tell me they have read my blog or my books. So while this may sound stupid, and I probably shouldn’t admit to this, I purposefully go through and think up questions that I can ask any person I meet. I am, after all, traveling to connect and meet with people and want to make sure that I can spark up a conversation.
Go up to people. This is something I have had to really work on, but it is important to learn how to introduce yourself to others. I have had too many missed opportunities where I had hoped to meet someone and I never felt the right moment came for me to go up to them. Later I was bummed I had missed the opportunity because of my own fear. So make sure you create that moment, which leads me to my next point…
Practice being brave. This is something I remind myself of every time I go a new place. I love meeting new people but can have a hard time initializing a brand new connection. I have told myself I have to practice every time I travel, every time I have the chance, and meet at least 5 new people. I set a small goal so I can accomplish it but also make it big enough for me to get in the habit of going up to people. Some of the best conversations I have had has been with complete strangers that I introduced myself too. It took bravery and that is something we could all use practice in.
Print a business card. I laughed the first time someone told me this, (what does a teacher need a business card for?), and then I went to my first conference. Aha! When you meet someone new and you want to exchange information that business card becomes your new best friend. The best part was my husband’s tip of using one of the free websites where all you have to pay for is shipping. I got 250 cards for $5 and I am bringing them all.
Plan down time. While I love the learning and connecting that happens at conferences, my brain can only take so much. So don’t overbook yourself, schedule in for down time where you will sit, eat, and do whatever it is you need to do to feel like this is still a good time. Going to conferences should be a great experience, not a hassle, nor a stressor.
Bring a book (or five). Or whatever it is that lets you completely relax by yourself. I read any time I can and know I will be traveling with a lot of books. Yes, they weigh a lot but the fact that I can pull out a book at any time and escape a little bit makes a world of difference for me.
Be a nice human being. Unfortunately sometimes going to a conference means that some people forget to be nice, or completely forget to be professional. We are all busy, we all have places to be, and yes, we probably have many people we would love to be speaking to. But be nice. Be kind to the people that speak to you. Help others. Look for people who are alone or seem like they don’t know what they are doing, after all, that person may be me.
Represent. I tell my students this whenever they leave our classroom and the word carries us out into the world. Remember, you are not just there representing yourself, you are representing your entire school community and your family. I go to conferences to share the words of my students, to help them change the way education is done to kids all around the world. That is not something I take lightly and so I behave appropriately. I have heard crazy stories of conference after parties, and I certainly have no intention of becoming part of those stories.
What else would you add to those traveling to conferences by themselves?
PS: To see where I am traveling to, go here – hopefully our paths will cross this summer.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.