As a professional in your field, do you have to attend conferences? Or perhaps your company organises conferences. Do you get involved in organising the conference and inviting speakers and engaging with the delegates?
When I worked in the finance world, the companies I worked for often organised investment conferences and as a sales adviser I would invite my clients to attend the conference. My role was very much to engage with my clients and introduce them to our top investment analysts.
Nowadays, I attend teachers’ conferences in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). I started attending them last year. This weekend I am attending my fifth conference and will be a first-time speaker. I am looking forward to it even though I am feeling rather nervous.
What I am also looking forward to is seeing some of my fellow teachers again, meeting new ones, exchanging ideas and having fun.
As a teacher who is a freelancer and works on her own (I like to call myself a teacherpreneur), I think it’s especially important to meet face to face with my peers every now and again. I want to know what’s happening in the world of ELT and to share ideas on teaching methods, business experience and so on.
While the online world, with such tools as webinars, conference calls and social media, allows us to interact with our peers wherever they may be in the world, there is nothing quite like sitting down with someone face-to-face over a cup of coffee, looking into their eyes and truly engaging with them.
I read an article recently giving reasons why business professionals should attend conferences linked to their industry. The reasons given to attend were:
It may sound obvious but conferences are an excellent place for us, professionals, to learn from our peers not only new ideas and new trends but also to endorse what we’re doing as a business. No matter how experienced we are, there is always something to learn. And that’s what keeps businesses fresh and innovative.
Networking with your peers
This is one of the main reasons people attend conferences. The chance to connect with your peers, share ideas and experiences can open up collaborative projects, new leads or referrals. Sharing is caring and social media has certainly taught us that. Rather than being suspicious of our competitors we should embrace their knowledge and be willing to share.
I once worked with a teacher who didn’t want to share any of her ideas with her peers. She didn’t want people to ‘steal’ her ideas. The thing is, there’s no such thing as an original idea. Most of us get our ideas from other sources. What’s unique to us is how we turn that idea to suit our purpose.
I have found that the more you’re prepared to share your ideas with people and share other people’s work, the more clients you’ll get. I’ve had a number of full-immersion clients who told me that I was recommended to them by their teacher. Instead of feeling threatened, their teacher was more than happy to ‘share’ their students with me for a different experience.
Meet suppliers and vendors
At the conferences I attend, there’s always an exhibition area for publishers to advertise and sell their products. While I don’t follow course books in my teaching, I am always extremely interested to find out what’s new in the world of ELT publishing and to discover different materials that I could use when creating my own content like this blog, my videos, my Facebook live lessons and of course, my courses.
Trade exhibits are an excellent way for any business to find out what’s new, what’s innovative and to discuss ideas with manufacturers or suppliers.
Position yourself as an expert
When you’re active in your industry, you’re more likely to develop a reputation as an expert in your field. The more active you are in conferences the chances are you’ll be invited to speak at an event or write articles for publications. And that is good for business because clients like to deal with people who are admired by their peers.
This also goes for online content. If you regularly post articles on LinkedIn or write for other publications, people will begin to consider you an authority in your field.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m giving my first talk at this weekend’s conference. I will be talking about the generation clash in business and how we as business English trainers can help our clients deal with it. Why did I decide to do this? First of all, I wanted to test myself and break out of my comfort zone. And I thought standing in front of my peers might be a great start. Secondly, I want to share some of my ideas and see what response I get. Or maybe I am just an extrovert and love hearing the sound of my voice!
The above reasons certainly mirror my reasons for attending conferences.
Active participation is key
Having said all that, attending conferences is only the start. To truly benefit from the event, you need to actively participate in the conference.
How do you actively participate in conferences? Do you attend as many workshops as you can?
If you do, do you ask thought-provoking questions to the speaker of the talk? Do you engage with the speaker when they answer your question? Do you compliment them? Do you connect the ideas of the topic with your experience to show how relevant the speaker’s ideas are?
Supposing the conference were conducted in English, would you know how to actively participate comfortably in English?
Here are some expressions you could use for the above scenarios.
Asking a question during a talk or workshop
You might want to start with paying a compliment : ” That’s an interesting point. Can I ask you a quick question?”
Then you may want to ask a challenging and thought-provoking question that makes you stand out:
“Wouldn’t it be better to retain staff and focus on growth rather than attrition?”
“Doesn’t this go against the current trend of simplicity?”
“Isn’t all this real estate speculation going to create a bubble?”
Engaging with the speaker when they answer you
In many workshops and presentations, the presenter may encourage discussions and it’s an excellent way to engage with the speaker and share your ideas.
One of the ways you can show interest and engagement is to repeat part of the presenter’s response to your question.
“Listen to your customers. Good point.”
“The generation gap is widening. You’re absolutely right”.
After a talk or workshop
If you were impressed by speaker, paying them a compliment after is always welcome.
“I think your presentation was great. I loved in particular your points about making an impact on the younger co-workers”.
“Your ideas on how we can narrow the generation gap in business were so though-provoking. Thank you.”
“I just wanted you to know you did an excellent job managing the discussion”.
Connecting the ideas with your own experience
An effective way of actively participating and creating a meaningful dialogue with people (presenters or fellow delegates) is to connect their ideas to your experience. Not only does it generate good conversation, it also shows that their ideas have relevance and resonated with you.
Everyone likes to be complimented, and if you flatter others they will respond positively to your ideas and contribution.
Start off with a statement of interest before showing the connection to your experience.
“I can certainly relate to your challenges. In fact. we’ve had similar problems in the last few years….”
“Yes, that’s really interesting. We’ve had to deal with this situation in the past. What we did was…..”
“A flexible rewards programme? Yes, we’ve tried that as well.”
I am looking forward to my fifth conference and to seeing my fellow teachers at the weekend. I am also looking forward to giving my first ever talk in the ELT field.
I hope you found this post useful. Do share with me in the comments box your experiences of conferences and if you actively participate at them. Have you done so in English? If so, what was it like?
If you think your co-workers and friends would find this useful, please share this post with them.
Ciao for now
PS: By the way…my next lesson on Facebook “Wednesdays with English with a Twist” will be on Wednesday 9 November at 3pm (GMT +0). The lesson lasts 30 minutes. If you are on Facebook, do check out my Facebook Page and join the lesson if you can. If you can’t attend them, you can catch the recording. Join me for ‘tips and sips’.