How to Get the Most out of a Professional Conference

An initial look at a conference program can lead attendees to become (in the words of a former colleague) “paralyzed by the possibilities.” There are just so many sessions we’d like to attend that it’s hard to choose. At a recent conference, a new faculty member asked me for advice about negotiating the labyrinth. Here is a collection of strategies that I have developed over the years to help me make the most of the conference experience—before, during, and after the event.
For sessions
Consider treating the conference as a personal independent study. At a teaching conference, my topic of study might be “hybrid classes.” In preplanning my agenda, I piece together a breadth of sessions that examine hybrid classes from multiple perspectives. I seek out a variety of presenters from different disciplines, approaches, and session types (poster, keynote, workshop, panel). Depending on the size of the conference, I may identify a “major” and a “minor” for my independent study. The effect is that each session augments another. By the end of the conference, I have the equivalent of an extensive review of literature, a multi-institutional (even multi-national) perspective, an array of stories from the field, and a collection of key resources and contacts.
Pick one “outlier” session—a topic or approach that is unfamiliar or a complete departure from something you would normally pursue. Over the years, this has been …