Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Conference Etiquette by Mr. Manners

I recently presented at a state supported education conference.  Over the past 10 years I have presented a dozen times at education conferences and football coaching conferences.  After this last experience I have to point out a few things which Judith Martin (Miss Manners) never taught us:

1.  As a presenter I had to pay this week.  I couldn't believe it.  Months ago, I submitted a proposal to present to a committee which I assume chooses from a stack of applications.  They found my ideas and expertise valuable enough to include in their conference...they emailed me my presentation date and time and room...and then told me to register.  To pay?  I'm not talking a couple of bucks.  We're talking upwards of $200.

2.  Handouts.  I've seen both camps--the presenter who makes more than enough copies and no one takes their handout with them.  The presentation room remains littered with wasted paper.  Or, of course, the opposite occurs--in the spirit of being green, a presenter offers to email anything they present...and conference attendees complain and harumpf...they have to have that handout!  (Or they leave the room to go to a different session)

3.  This one happens a lot at coaching conferences/clinics: when the presenter does indeed have a handout, word spreads, and, mind you, hustle into the room to scoop up a handout and then leave the presentation so they can attend something else going on at that time...kind of getting two for one.

4.  Finally, this one has only happened once in my experience, but it is worth sharing: in the middle of a presentation someone walked in...saw a friend of his across the room...and yells out, "Pete!"  It gets worse.  Pete leaps up and they climb over other people to each other (like a young wife greeting her husband who was away at war), hug, slap backs, shake each other, and share with the rest of us how great it is that they are seeing each other again.  I watched the presenter's face slowly grow raw with disgust.  To his credit, he let them waste his time without a word and carried on with the presentation.

There is definitely conference etiquette which doesn't always get practiced by all parties.  In the case of a presenter paying to attend the shouldn't happen.  This is a no-brainer and the worst possible scenario.  Every day there are websites, wikis, forums, blogs, twitterers which share (many for for free) professional experiences, information, tips, lessons, and anything you can imagine.  The internet is providing an ongoing, nonstop conference.  I'll go so far as to say that people don't have to go to education conferences anymore.

One such example is the English Companion Ning (  Here educations from around the world have gathered to share ideas and materials, debate, discuss, review, and engage.  It is free.  It offers as much as any education conference has, and I have developed several professional relationships with good people.  Our discussions are now ongoing and it has given everyone access to people and ideas we otherwise never would have.  Currently, I'm in conversation with a teacher in Alabama who wants to join our classes together to discuss and explore The Diary of Anne Frank.

This has never happened to me at a conference.  Why?  Because when people go they tend to want to grab (grub) the handout, listen, and leave.  If there is no handout then you receive a snarky comment on the feedback form to be better prepared.

None of us has to reschedule a day of work, prepare powerpoints, maybe some handouts, and drive to a conference to then write a check to do so.  In the professional world, that fee is waived for presenters.  I'm not looking for a check or to make a nickle when I do it, but I'm also not looking to spend my money when I offer my expertise either. 

Actually, with current financial climate many districts are not reimbursing their teachers should they attend a conference.  If a state education agency is organizing a conference they have to get their act together and at the very least waive the fee for presenters--you'll attract more applications, perhaps you'll attract teachers who never would be able to attend a conference in the first place. 

As far as handouts at conferences are concerned, with the mass availability of computers--most of us have one in our pockets--there is no need to continue to produce handouts at conferences.  Get back to conversation, get back to paying attention and respect and courtesy.  I haven't met an educator or football coach yet who would not share his/her information.  Actually it has been quite the opposite.  It is easily done online, via email, DVD, etc.

Since there isn't a Miss Manners for conferences, I guess that makes me Mr. Manners for today.

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