… and making the most of it!

Top three things to bring that will keep you happy:

  • refillable water bottle,
  • portable power bank for your phone, and
  • shoes that can keep going all day.

Top three things to do that will keep everybody happy:

  • Arrive at any session you want to attend a couple of minutes early – no more, no less.
  • Bring your laptop (with HDMI port) when you are presenting.
  • If you are getting overloaded or bored, walk outside.

In this post: Before You Go | While You are There | If You are a Presenter


As I write this post, ACTFL 2019 is one day away, and I am pulling together my print materials, my “exhibitor kit,” and everything else that I take to conferences. Meanwhile five students are preparing to present with me in two different sessions and many more will be joining us for the Alumni Reunion / Networking Event on Saturday. More on those under Events.



I started to share advice for attending conferences in an email just to the students and alumni who are definitely going to be at ACTFL, but they’re not the only ones who need to hear it! It gives me a lot of energy to be around so many people eagerly discussing foreign language teaching, and it’s a relief sometimes to “talk shop” with impunity – not to mention that if I want to see my students in person, I usually have to go where they are! At the same time, conferences can be really draining unless you plan ahead and deliberately take care of yourself each day.

Every year you have the opportunity to gather with other language teachers, teacher educators, and researchers at conferences and institutes around the world. ACTFL is one of the largest in our field, and first-time attendees are usually a little overwhelmed. I hope that these tips will help you make the most of the experience.


Before You Go

MAFLT Exhibit Booth – typical setup

Plan to dress like you do when you teach – maybe what you would wear on a day when you will meet parents. You don’t want your clothes to speak louder than you do, but be you!

Wear layers. Pack a coat that is warm and water-resistant but can be stuffed in your bag. I always have a scarf in case the rooms are cold.

Bring a shoulder bag you can carry for hours. The conference bag is good for helping you blend in with the herd when you leave the convention center, but not for organizing your stuff all day.

Devices are useful, but again – only bring what you are willing to carry for hours. I carry my laptop when I am presenting, but on other days I might only carry my smartphone and my bluetooth keyboard.

Forget about trying to plan out every session you will attend ahead of time – unless you like to make plans and then throw them away.

Take time the night before to plan your day, but be flexible with the plan. The program allows for lunch breaks, and you do need to take advantage of those. Finding decent food with that many people around can take a long time.


While You are There

Amanda Lanier and Emily Heidrich-Uebel (CeLTA colleague) on the cover of LTE
(just kidding – this is a faux cover from the QTI photo booth)

Do not lose your nametag! Okay, they can be replaced, but it’s a headache.

Download the convention app. Use it to look up topics, presenters, locations, etc. and to make a (flexible) schedule.

Schedule your essential events and maybe even put a reminder on your phone. Most events are not essential when you are a first-time attendee.

Aim to attend a mix of session types – plenary, roundtable, poster sessions, and regular sessions.

When attending a paper presentation, workshop, or roundtable, arrive a couple of minutes ahead of time. Don’t hide in the very back. Don’t spend the whole time rifling through your convention program. Ask a question – at the end, not in the middle.

Allow time for the Exhibit Hall. You can talk to authors, app designers, editors, organizers of local organizations, study abroad program staff, test designers, etc.

Your nametag is also good for storage. Really. There is always space to put business cards and even a credit card behind your name card.

If you are getting overloaded, take a break.

No pen? No problem. Go snag one from a booth in the Exhibit Hall.

Phone is dying? Find me. My charger can handle four phones.


If You are a Presenter

Susan, Amanda, and Sara at MIWLA 2018

Make sure you have a laptop and a way to connect it to an HDMI cable – or that someone in your group does. These days the room will have a projector, but not a computer.

A presentation remote is also important. You can do without, but it’s not exactly graceful.

Pick up the little flag for your nametag that says you are a presenter, and wear it proudly!

Check out the room ahead of time. How big is it? How much room is there at the front? Where are the doors? How long will it take you to get there?

Arrive about 10 minutes early. Before that, you will just be disturbing the presenter before you. Some sessions are back to back with discussion at the end of the series. In that case, you need to be there when the series begins.

Rehearse, but not too much. The hardest part – after the presentation is otherwise ready – is cleaning up your transitions from one speaker to the next.

Share your handouts at the beginning, then put the extras on a chair in the back so people can pick them up if they come in late.

Talk to the audience! They are people!

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