A Beginner’s Guide to IATEFL and Other Conferences
I have already been to quite a few conferences and I have been going to IATEFL conferences for the past three years and it’s high time I wrote a post about my experiences both as a delegate and as a speaker. IATEFL stands for International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language and it aims at bringing teachers from all corners of the world together by providing professional development through publications, talks, conferences, and workshops. IATEFL also supports teachers worldwide by helping them set up local teachers’ associations and ELT events. Those who cannot afford to attend the yearly conference can also apply for scholarships and perhaps have their entire trip funded by IATEFL.
IATEFL conferences are held once a year in a different city in the UK. In 2013 we went to Liverpool and last year to Harrogate. This year it was Manchester. The chosen venues are usually very good, but this year not only was it very good, but the wifi connection was so fast that I had to keep my phone off in order to save battery life.
That said, IATEFL conferences are a big deal and every year delegates get together to attend the talks and see the big names in ELT present. It is also a great opportunity for teachers to connect with others and build a network. It happens mostly during coffee breaks and dinners and I can only say that it’s an excellent opportunity to share experiences with people from different backgrounds. And of course, IATEFL can be fun because it’s about making new friends and meeting up old ones.
Here are my top five tips for making the most of such a big conference:
#1: Book the hotel and plane tickets in advance. The best hotels are the ones near the venue. The earlier, the better deals you make. If you leave it for the last minute, the only hotels left will be the most expensive ones. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a guest house or a five-star hotel. In the UK, inexpensive doesn’t mean bad services; it just means that you may not get laundry services on weekends if you book a two-star hotel. It’s much nicer to just walk to the conference center instead of taking a taxi — which can be expensive. Besides, the plenary sessions start at 9, so if you want to be there on time, make sure you get up early and enjoy breakfast — preferably in the hotel because you’ll probably need to get breakfast fast if you want to make it to the plenary sessions;
#2: Lunch and coffee breaks
There’s usually complimentary tea and coffee available during coffee breaks. Oh, and milk — which I always have with coffee. There’s also a coffee bar where you can buy snacks and coffee or tea whenever you like. As for lunch, in Liverpool we got free lunch bags with a sandwich and something to drink, but since there were many good restaurants around, we chose to go out to lunch every day.
This year, the restaurants were farther away, so we decided to buy lunch at the bar inside the venue. There were some snacks and dishes available for a few pounds. It’s quick and you can sit on the floor with friends in a picnic style lunch or pick a table if you’re lucky;
#3: IATEFL Events
The conference also features a number of events to entertain delegates such as quiz nights, comedy, raffles, and karaoke. Well, they’re usually at the conference center and if you’re staying close to it, it makes it easier to attend them because they’re held after the conference. One more reason to stay near the conference center!
#4: Which talks and workshops?
The conference program is huge and it’s hard to choose from so many potentially good talks and workshops. Many talks are recorded so you can watch them later when you get back home, so I choose talks that I won’t be able to see later. Sometimes I pick a talk at random in the spur of the moment; sometimes I plan ahead because it’s a topic I’m interested in. Some talks are exciting and inspiring while others are nothing short of boring figures and stats. However, this uncertainty doesn’t keep me from attending talks by the not-so famous delegates. I’ve seen very good talks by people I’d never heard about before;
#5: Why not speak at the IATEFL?
I gave a talk in Harrogate last year. It was an interesting experience to me because it is such a big thing and you have no idea who your audience will be. Of course, there are inner circles and those who attend the same talks and hang out with the same people. I’m not going to mention names, but it’s part of life, so it’s part of IATEFL. However, even if you’re not a big name in ELT, you’ll have an audience however small it is. Don’t expect something big if you don’t network a little first. If you get to know people who are attending the conference, invite them to your talk but don’t be disappointed if they don’t show up. The program is overwhelming and the venue really big.
If you decide to submit a proposal, read the guidelines and make sure that your talk is relevant and dynamic. Use videos, realia, and your speaking skills to grab the audience’s attention. Make it memorable and fun. Engage your audience in short tasks. Let them interact with you. You can have 25 minutes of fun! Speaking was an amazing experience and I believe that my audience learned something from me. This is what conferences are all about: Learning from others.
Here’s the link to the IATEFL website if you want to learn more about membership and the conferences:
On my next post I’ll comment on some of the talks I attended!