Changing the conference experience

Last year, I wrote an article for the University of Ottawa Graduate Students Association Journal providing some tips on how to get the most out of conference travel. You can read it here:

Over the last year, I have missed the conference scene. I was diagnosed with breast cancer three days before I was due to travel, attend, and present at two conferences. All travel and conferencing had to be cancelled. My life was put on hold while I underwent treatment.

A year later, I am getting back into the conference scene – only things are different now. I am a little more picky about which conferences I go to. Since I am mostly funding my attendance out of my own pocket, that certainly affects my choices, but also, I ask myself, will I enjoy it? You see, that is one of things that has changed in my life. If I don’t think I’m going to have fun, then it just isn’t worth it to me.

Part of having fun involves making connections. As I discovered at et4online, making those connections before the conference made all the difference. Having an authentic online presence helped me make these connections. I also went into the conference with a purpose – the virtual buddy program that myself and Maha Bali were pilot testing. We’ve written a bit about our experiences for Hybrid Pedagogy in Maha’s column: Virtual, Hybrid, or Present? The #et4buddy Conference Experiment.

The et4online conference also provided a great healing opportunity for me. For the first time since my diagnosis, I had fun! Like, I mean, I really had fun. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt! You cannot even begin to imagine how much I needed that.

What this experience has meant is that I look for more in conferences now. I received an acceptance of a proposal (based on the blog outcomes survey I conducted) for the Queens University of Belfast ePatients Conference on the medical, ethical and legal repercussions of blogging and micro-blogging experiences of illness and disease. I am very excited about this opportunity, although my first concern is whether I’ll be able to connect with people in advance of the conference. I now know how much richer the conference experience is if I go with a purpose – and if I go knowing a few people.

I was overjoyed to learn that a couple of the cancer blog mentors from my Should I blog? course are planning on attending. That means that I will know a few people at the conference. I can take the time now, before the conference to get to know them better, but also to get to know other people who might be attending the conference. If I reach out now, start following blogs and twitter now, then by the time the conference happens (September), I’ll feel more connected. It will make the on-the-ground experience so much richer.

In so many ways our lives our busy. It is too easy to forget to spend a few moments now and then to check in on other people. It is too easy to forget about a conference until you are on the plane, quickly trying to get your presentation together before you land. In the world of last-minute preparation, you lose the true opportunity that the conference provides. It is not so much about showcasing your work as it is about connecting with people. Once you know who else is attending, you can reach out to a few people, try to get to know them, and try to connect with them before and then at the conference. It involves taking the time before the conference to make the effort to connect. If more of us did it, then all our conference experiences would be richer.


1 Comment on Changing the conference experience

  1. U know it’s almost obvious now that you started saying it, right? The “content” you can get from ppl”s blogs and published papers. The conference allows for those connection, multi dimensional ones, personal ones, and spontaneous ones (as u said somewhere else; we’re communicating all over the place today)

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