On organizing ELT conferences and events

This is part three of a three part series on conferences. The first two parts looked at what attendees want and what what presenters want from ELT conferences. In this post I will share survey responses related to planning and organizing conferences or other events. If you click on the first post linked above you can find out about the background of this survey. Once again my thanks go to those who took the time to answer the questions (and he who helped created the questions). As might be expected there were less responses to the section of the survey related to organizing events. I hope and believe that the responses here might be of use to those planning events I share them with that in mind. Comments (including your additions) and questions most welcome.

As a conference organizer, how do you define your goals?

  • Forget about the “WOW!”, just get rid of the “Arrrrgh!”
  • Everyone should want to come back next year is one measure. Sometimes financial. Did we get enough people in to cover costs? But, ideally there should be a good vibe.
  • At the beginning of the process, I talk with the other planners about what we want to see as a result of the conference. Sometimes we start with problems or challenges that we see in our teaching environments. This helps us put together a conference theme and a list of possible speakers.
  • Looking at my aims.
  • With a team.

As a conference organizer, how do you determine how to allocate resources?

  • Get the basics (location / facilities / advertising / printing) covered and prioritise from there on the continuum from ‘Absolutely essential’ through to ‘Nice to have’.
  • According to regulations.
  • I look at budgets from previous conferences and then adapt them to the needs and the numbers of expected guests. The cost of the venue often determines how much room we have for other resource-demanding things.
  • Tough one. And one I’m not usually that involved in. Try to be fair to everyone as far as things like people who sign up commit early get get the spaces they deserve. But, also try to allocate some resources (presentation slots, features, etc) for people “on their way up” not only the “names.” But, you usually do need name “star” presenters too.

As a conference organizer, how do you evaluate proposals?

  • There are rubrics etc. but a lot of it comes down to a gut feeling at times. Usually have to deal with too many seemingly good proposals.
  • According to appeal and feasibility.
  • I create or borrow a rubric, which I distribute to the proposal vetting team, and when I am more organized, I also link to the rubric from the proposal submission form. Since I have never had a huge number of proposals to deal with, all of the reviewers give comments about all of the proposals. The comments are summarized and sent back to the presenters with requests for revision if necessary.
  • RRR – Recent, Relevant, Reliable: recent/new ELT info; relevance to the local ELT context; reliable presenters who are knowledgeable on the topic.
  • I wish I knew the answer…

As a conference organizer, how do you determine prices?

  • Always a negotiation. The past few years I have been on the side of “raise the rates” but that does have negative consequences too. In an ideal world, sky high rates for those who can afford them, but coupons, discounts or rebates to keep the community diverse.
  • We charge what we think people will be willing to pay. That is often determined by the prices of local conferences of a similar scope.
  • Estimate costs and divide by expected participants – compare with similar conferences.
  • According to cost and averages charges for similar events.

As a conference organizer, what, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge in preparing a conference? How have you addressed it (assuming it can be addressed)?

  • Sourcing great speakers.
  • Getting people to attend, promotion.
  • Getting help.
  • My biggest headache is fundraising because I hate, hate, hate asking for money. My second biggest headache is publicity because I am by nature much more talented at keeping secrets than shouting from rooftops. The best thing I can do with these challenges is work with a team. Either my teammates will compensate for my weaknesses with their own strengths or my fear of letting my teammates down will make the challenges seem less fearsome by comparison.
  • Getting the word out to as many people as possible, and even more so to the “right” people (people you want to have come who should be there but might not be if they don’t know or don’t know far enough in advance) as far ahead of time as possible, but not therefore lock everything down too far in advance. It’s a trade off.

Additional thoughts as a conference organizer:

  • No good deed goes unpunished. No matter what you do, people will complain endlessly, so once the opening words of the conference are uttered try to just enjoy it. There isn’t much you can do at that point to change the direction. But if you are enjoying it, others will too. Real actual issues of safety, execution, etc need attention, but try not to pay too much attention to the squeaky wheels. Much better to pay attention to someone, anyone else.
  • Have a nice day ~ : )


What presenters want from ELT conferences

In my last post I shared responses to a survey about what conference attendees want from ELT conferences. In this post I’ll share the responses from presenters. Thanks once again are due to Michael Free for supplying the questions and to the respondents from around the world who took the time to answer the survey. If you’d like to see some background info on the respondents please click on my previous post here. It is interesting to note that between 20 and 22 of the respondents (out of a possible 29) answered questions about presenting at a conference which struck me as a large percentage. What follows are the questions and answers (with some light editing). Please feel free to comment on anything that catches your eye or what you’d add.

As a conference presenter, what do you want in an ELT conference?

  • No conference fee for presenters!
  • Time around the session so you aren’t in a rush to set up in the five minute break
  • An enthusiastic audience. Clear guidelines.
  • Facilities up and ready to go: internet, projector, board and marker.
    Tech issues are a nightmare, make presenters jittery and hold things up.
  • Well-organised, good venue, decent catering (especially if in a non-central location), wifi on site, good tech support, respect for my contribution to the event
  • More than 10 people showing up to my session.
  • Help with technology and photocopying facilities for handouts
  • An audience
  • Good rooms, flawless technology (projectors, speakers), clear signposting
  • An opportunity to share my research
  • Everything to just work. That is the schedule has to be clear, allow time for audience to get to the right room, and by “right” I mean “my” (just kidding, but seriously a good clear easy to navigate schedule is key), but also not too loose so that people just wander around.
  • Effective tech support
  • Organisation
  • A comfortable room
  • Plenty of notice about day and time I’m going to be speaking. Clear instructions.
  • A decent time slot (10 am-6 pm, especially if the conference site is not at the same station as the area that most attendees are staying, as I want people to come to my presentation), a time slot that does not have dozens of parallel presentations (as I’m likely to want to see some of them and audiences end up being small), a decent screen for my slides (not a tiny white board with a dodgy projector), and a time keeper (for me and the person who is presenting in the room before me, as I want to stay on schedule).
  • Networking, new ideas, new people
  • People to think
  • I want to get feedback on my proposal, and I want to know whether it has been accepted in a timely manner. I also want know the conference schedule well in advance. At the conference itself, I want an audience. There is nothing more frustrating than preparing an awesome presentation for a nearly empty room.
  • A good turn out
  • Tech support. Not my strongest area. Clarity on anticipated audience.
  • The same things i want as an attendee

As a conference presenter, what is absolutely essential? 

  • None of the above are essential but they are definitely desirable. At the end of the day, I could present anywhere really, with or without a projector, as long as I have an audience! To that end, I think the schedule is the most important thing. Having dozens (literally sometimes!) of parallel sessions means that very few people can make it to each presentation, and very early sessions (especially the morning after a social event) do too. I think it would be nice if everyone could have a decent sized group of people to share their ideas/work with, so organisers should try to make that possible through their scheduling decisions.
  • An audience
  • Computer connected to the projector in every room
  • A good room and good time keepers so everyone gets their turn.
  • Organization?
  • Functioning presentation technology. Water.
  • Electricity. Seriously, I once had to give a presentation in an alcove after sundown with no electric lights
  • A projector
  • Internet connection, generally technology that is functioning
  • Timings by other speakers are adhered to and rooms are vacated promptly
  • Effective tech support. To not have the feeling that you’re in some huge venue alone trying to figure out the logistics of prepping the tech, of short transition times between audiences, etc., with clueless freshmen volunteers and one or two harried chiefs many corridors away….
  • Tech support
  • A comfortable room for attendees
  • Time and good technology that works, e.g. up to date software so that laptops don’t start updating mid presentation or cause conflicts between the version you wrote the presentation on and the version they have on their system.
  • Someone to show you where stuff is. Also someone to make sure the person before me has gone.
  • People with an open mind
  • Working technology. People being able to read about sessions and make informed decisions
  • Working technology (laptop, projector) or clear guidance on what technology is or isn’t available
  • Working tech in the room
  • Equipment that works

As a conference presenter, what is useful, but not essential?

  • Water
  • Being paid to talk (!) Nice when that happens :-)
  • A quiet room for presenters. A varied and interesting programme of talks I can attend when I’m not presenting.
  • Nice, easily accessible info about other presenters
  • A timekeeper
  • Tweets
  • Decent wifi
  • All the tech stuff like network, projectors etc is useful, but most important not to over promise. I can work without wifi or even electricity, but if told there will be something it has to be there and it has to work.
  • A discount for presenters
  • AV equipment
  • Good tech support
  • Feedback from attendees to shape future presentations and for PD purposes.
  • Boards
  • Support staff, in case something goes wrong
  • Brass bands & drum processions before 10 am
  • An assistant, access to the room in advance (to check out seating etc)
  • A certificate
  • Knowing the size of the room and approximate number of people that room can fit
  • A wall clock or a human time-keeper is very helpful.
  • A room to relax, prepare etc.
  • Volunteers helping

Additional thoughts as a conference presenter:

  • Don’t want to be charged excessively in order to present.
  • No one wants to get up at 7 AM on the second day of a conference and present at 8 AM. Stop that.
  • Once at Spain TESOL they had a handout .pdf archive on USBs for everyone as they checked in. It was awesome.
  • Not happy to be told: oh, by the way, can you write up your presentation for the conference publication, can you be on this panel…? etc.
  • The conference should really explain who they are, what they do, their story. Help folks understand what this is as there are more and more odd or bogus conferences popping up, similar to predatory publishers.
  • Nice to be able to get into the room 10 mins before to set up and check layout. Not always possible when conferences are badly organised, or when too many talks have been scheduled.
  • I like what the British Council does at IATEFL, getting people to come and talk in front of the cameras about their talk and live streaming it / making recordings available.
  • Don’t have so many presentations at once that a bunch of presenters end up with 3 audience members — even as an attendee it is depressing to enter a presentation room with a bunch of chairs, a well-prepared presenter, but 1-5 for the audience.
  • Being asked to pay to attend a conference as a presenter is for me, a disincentive to submitting a proposal. Speaking at a conference (as opposed to just attending) incurs additional costs and being asked to pay to give my up time for free is disrespectful. It’s a throwback to ‘the good old days’ when all presenters were fully funded. It’s a gripe shared by many of my peers.

What ELT conference attendees want

WordItOut-word-cloud-1414484Some time ago my friend, colleague, one time co-presenter and writer, and two time guest (1, 2) on this very blog Michael Free contacted me. He wanted to get a conversation started about what people want from conferences here on ELT RRR, writing:

Some of us ELTs have to attend them, others don’t.
Some teachers (really) like them, others (really) don’t. 

Speaking for myself, I love a good conference. A chance to hear about new research, talk shop, and hopefully pick up a practical technique or two for the classroom as well as a few books. Of course, my reasons might not match with your reasons. So, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

Before I do, I’d like to tell you why I’m asking. I’ve recently been asked to help organise a fairly large conference (a solidly packed single-day event, if you must know). In beginning to put this together, I’m wondering what, for you, makes the conference experience worthwhile. 

I thought it would be helpful to start off the process with a (completely unscientific) survey so that the responses to the survey could give readers something to think about and add to (as well as agree and disagree with). Thank you very much to the 30 people who responded! The questions were a joint effort but most of them were from Michael Free (thank you Michael). Below you can find the survey questions and the answers related to attending conferences with some minor edits for clarity and organization. Responses on presenting and organizing conferences will be in subsequent posts.

As you read the responses I wonder, what do you think of them?  What would you add? What would you cut? What is interesting or surprising for you?

Background information

The respondents were based in:

South Korea (5)
Japan (3)
The UK (3)
The US (2)
In terms of experience attending conferences 59.3% of the respondents have attended 11 or more conferences which gives an indication of the level of experience with conferences from respondents. 14.8% have attended 7-10 conferences, 18.5% have attended 4-6 conferences, and 7.4% of respondents have attended 2-3 conferences.

As a conference attendee, what do you want in a conference?

  • Opportunities to discuss what we’ve heard, but informally and not because that’s part of a session.
  • To learn new and inspiring things and to meet good people.
  • An interesting range of presentations that are not scheduled before 9:30am. Not too many parallel sessions because the odds of me wanting to really see than one or two of the presentations end up being very high.
  • To be energised, inspired, learn new things
  • Pleasant venue (comfortably heated rooms, not a massive space to trek around, convenient location, etc.), quality talks (original, well-researched, professionally presented) and well organised i.e. speakers encouraged to stick to timings, technology working, no ridiculous queues for coffee!
  • How many answers do I get? All of the following are important: a good venue, good organization, friendly hosts, great presentations (even though that is often out of the hands of the organizers) interesting group of participants. Something new to learn. A good audience if presenting. Wifi.
  • Well-grounded, well-argued, well-illustrated presentations – preferably innovative
  • New ideas, knowledge, support, time to network, etc.
  • “Big Name” plenary speakers! Current and relevant info about ELT; networking opportunities; freebies from publishers!
  • To learn something
  • Yes: Thought-provoking ideas backed by data/theory; new & practical classroom activities.
    No: preaching to the choir (please present at a conference targeted for administration instead).
  • Good ideas and good thinking, preferably backed up by evidence
  • New approaches on ELT
  • Variety of topics and session types.
  • Interesting sessions, interesting people, food & drinks, maybe fans (‘groupies’) recognising me
  • Healthy balance between plenaries, sessions, and free time to talk to people. Spacious but clearly laid-out venue. Engagement with participants via social networks (official updates and shares!)
  • To come away having learned stuff or not wasted time.
  • The last few conferences that I have been to have been a little unsatisfying from a presentations point of view. I wonder if this is less a function of poor presentations than just where I am in my development right now, and also the fact that it’s actually pretty difficult to tackle a topic in depth in 45 minutes or so. I also can’t remember the last time I saw a decent plenary. Recently I have got much more out of conversations at conferences, and especially those with newer teachers. I’m keen to see what happens with the demo classes at ExciteELT: I think those could be very interesting. Overall then, I’d say I want a chance to deal with the smaller stuff of teaching, that doesn’t always make it to the “big idea” presentation stage.
  • Interesting presentations, good research, strong speakers
  • Thought provoking and inspirational ideas for improved teaching, opportunities to discuss and network with colleagues, learn about R&D, clarification on any government changes in immigration law, visas and exams.
  • Networking opportunities and exposure to a variety of points of view.
  • Useful thought provoking stuff
  • Knowledge and meet others
  • Practical ideas based on theoretical knowledge
  • Something different. Something new. Something true.
  • New teaching ideas, current research, connections with other teachers
  • Materials or books
  • If a session is practical, lots of take-home ideas. If it’s theoretical, I want it to be really theoretical and high-level, not banal or oversimplified.

As a conference attendee, what is absolutely essential?

  • Good coffee that’s not outrageously expensive (for reals).
    A very practical glance-and-go conference handbook-schedule with accurate, quick-glance/one line summary of each presentation.
  • Good visuals
  • A variety of useful workshops, exchange of ideas with colleagues.
  • Interesting conferences and events organization
  • Theoretical knowledge
  • Good organization. Without that, the rest (above) can get lost. Ok, and wifi. But seriously, a conference team that works well.
  • Accurate locations and room numbers in the conference program, a variety of topics addressed
  • A location that is easily accessible from an airport in abroad and a major train station of in Japan. 10 minute breaks between presentations. A welcome reception for networking/bonding with others.
  • A variety of presenters.
  • Interesting and varied sessions and that the summary is accurate about what we’ll hear.
  • Conference schedule shouldn’t choke the attendees.
  • Interesting talks
  • Good organization
  • Good organization -sessions in the correct rooms, not many cancellations, a good schedule to plan what to attend.
  • Range/Variety
  • A wide choice of quality non-commercial talks, workshops, etc
  • Learning something
  • I thought about this, and I don’t think anything is totally essential (not even a venue, if you don’t include the internets in that definition). If I am there physically, somewhere to charge gadgets is probably top of my priority list.
  • Proximity to restaurants, WiFi
  • Clear programme and lay-out of venue, WiFi
  • That the learning is useful and relevant, although not always mainstream. Easy access and good facilities.
  • Learning something, meeting people.
  • A chance to network
  • People talking about more than what’s usually talked about. I get pretty tired of hearing the same old things all over the place all the time. I want to hear people sharing what works for them in their particular context – especially if it’s some outrageous thing that should not really work but does.
  • Transparency in the conference abstracts; NO disguised marketing
  • One decent talk minimum.
  • Current and relevant info about ELT in presentations by great speakers.

As a conference attendee what is useful, but not essential?

  • Publisher/promotional talks. I know they pay the bills, but they usually have to bribe people to attend and have very little bearing on practice.
  • Bookstores and editorials showrooms
  • Wifi? Coffee. These help but anyone can live without them.
  • A bag and printed schedule
  • A job searching center, with interviewing, can be a really great add-on.
  • Good food and a lot of coffee on-site
  • I quite enjoyed the wine and cheese event at this year’s [KOTESOL] International Conference. I’d like to see that kind of stuff encouraged more, but with more of a teaching focus. Kind of like a chillout room at the conference where the interested can go and find people to chat to.
  • Good coffee. If it’s not on-site, it’s essential to be able to get some close by.
  • Food options around =)
  • Lots of Q & A time
  • Discounts on books during the book fair.
  • Places to meet other people
  • Convenient location
  • Free stuff.
  • Freebies from publishers.
  • Commercial talks. I rarely (if ever) go to them, though that could be just me ;-)
  • Boards
  • Updates on relevant government legislation: any new or changed requirements; updates on R&D.
  • Book exhibition
  • Venue in an interesting, easily accessible location.
  • Solid vetting of speakers~no terrible presentations
  • meeting other teachers
  • Exhibition

As a conference attendee, what do you usually hope to take away from the conference?

  • New ideas for research and teaching
  • Ideas, useful contacts
  • New ideas for content, methods, projects…
  • New connections; broader perspectives; new learning; renewed enthusiasm for teaching.
  • Ideas for improved teaching and a feeling of being part of a mutually supportive group of professionals.
  • Memories of and ideas from conversations with other teachers; new acquaintances; ideas that would speak to me and that I will be ready to follow up on
  • Ideas, information, excitement,
  • A new way to think about something
  • New ways of looking at things, new skills and new/stronger friendships with people in my field.
  • Lots of new connections and at least one new idea.
  • Something I didn’t expect is always welcome. New ideas, better ideas, new people. Especially that last one.
  • One idea to use.
  • Some reviews of speeches
  • Directions for further reading/investigation
  • Increased motivation
  • Big thoughts, questions, connections.
  • A sense of community. Thought-provoking ideas; a few handouts, links, activities, or articles to revisit later.
  • Lots of ideas + some connections for networking.
  • Lots of things! For me though, what goes on between sessions (meeting peers, networking, etc) is just as valuable as the timetabled stuff
  • Ideas on how to improve as a teacher or questions to reflect on my teaching
  • An idea to think about more later and/or an inspiring way to approach learning.
  • Good ideas and new thinking
  • New teaching ideas, current research, connections with other teachers
  • New ideas, professional contacts, memories, etc.
  • New ideas for classes
  • New ideas for practice and new perspectives on practice
  • Inspiration
  • Ideas about new trends, a sense of what is/isn’t working for teachers in ELT (and why/why not)

In another survey potential attendees said they prefer quality speakers over speakers with “star power.” What, for you, are the characteristics that make a quality speaker?”A related, indeed overlapping, question is “What makes for a quality presentation?”

  • A quality speaker has a good story to tell and can tell it clearly and maybe adjust on the fly if needed. The difference between quality and star power is if you feel like you are getting the same attention to the work of presenting and preparation if there are 5 people in the room or 150.
  • It’s kind of like quality teaching – the speaker lets the audience know where they are starting from, builds from there, encourages (but does not force) participation, and leaves the audience feeling like they have explored a new way to think about something.
  • It should make people think. Shouldn’t be only theoretical.
  • A presentation that delivers what is promised, well-organized materials, engaging content.
  • I get why someone would say they want quality speakers instead of speakers with star power and yet it’s those people with star power who often bring in people who might otherwise not be there to share ideas that might not otherwise get shared. When we get a Tom Farrell or a Dorothy Zemach or a Shelly Sanchez Terrell or a Penny Ur (giving quality presentations and working with people throughout the conference) then that’s something good. And what makes for a quality presentation? Real ideas, connection with the audience, a bit inspiration. and confidence (but not over-confidence) in the ideas being shared. I particularly like speakers who say things like “well, I could be wrong but …”
  • Theoretical background to what they are saying.
  • NOT preaching to the choir — it is absolutely the worst to be told in detail all about things in education that are primarily out of the hands of teachers to change and in the hands of administration to be informed about (in other words, wrong audience for the content; don’t tell us what we already know but can do very little about).
  • A sense of wanting to help people to do stuff better in their classrooms.
  • Quality presentation includes questions, visuals, discussion and a q&a session
  • A quality pres is one that a) tells me something I don’t know and b) is not just someone’s opinion. Also, enough with the ‘5 ways to use a [tech] in class.’
  • Good speakers engage with the audience instead of preaching. Their slides are not all full of text, but they may choose to share some important quotes or other written information that is a little text heavy. Good speakers Don’t have to be funny, but humour is appreciated.
  • Relevance and preparation. Knowledge of the audience.
  • People who know the area they are talking about in great detail, can connect different ideas. Someone who makes even a potentially boring topic interesting and engaging. I don’t want to see a presentation by someone who has just had a look in a few of the common ELT textbooks. I can read the texts myself
  • While I’m guilty of responding “Big Name” presenters to the first question, I have certainly attended conferences where the “Big Name” presentation was not particularly relevant (or in my opinion “good”) to me or my teaching situation. However, it may have been great for another so each to their own – participants can always move around. The bottom line is this: Depth of knowledge from a subject matter expert is essential. A presenter with character will certainly go a long way but (excuse my French) attendees can smell bullshit a mile away.
  • An innovative topic
  • Confidence, good timing, a small number of carefully chosen key points, time at the end for questions (that are thoughtfully answered), and the ability to still deliver the talk if PowerPoint falls over.
  • A quality speaker for me is someone who knows their subject, is passionate about it, and delivers it in an engaging way. A quality talk is well prepared, researched thoroughly, rehearsed, and highly relevant to the audience it is pitched at.
  • Quality speaker: a speaker who knows the topic well and communicates effectively. A quality presentation: The presentation flows logically and involves more than platitudes. Concrete examples are given.
  • An enthusiasm to communicate something they feel strongly about. It doesn’t matter if they have “star power” or not.
  • New ideas, comfortable speaking, solid ‘presentation skills’, aware of the audience
  • A quality speaker, for me, does not overuse jargonisms, does not sound superior, does not state the obvious. A quality speaker shares stories. A quality presentation is honest and feels right, because the presenter, again, has a story to tell. A quality presentation is NOT a dry presentation of research data.
  • Someone who knows their topic well and who understands their attendees’ needs. Someone who won’t beat about the bush, but would use their time to maximum effect.
  • Passion, knowledge, interactivity, preparation, respect of time limits, clear and appealing visuals.
  • Effective communicators with a clear message that links the theory to the practice and gives me something I can use in the classroom
  • Concision, NOT reading aloud, precise timing, discussion time, economical and unobtrusive use of resources e.g. PowerPoint, humour
  • Well planned, prepared and rehearsed. That they have something to share – something they’ve tried, researched or thought about – that’s worth passing on.
  • Knowledge of practical realities.
  • Wit, humour – but not at the expense of content, content, knowledge of the topic, occasional references to research, possibly mentions of and links to other sessions presented at the same conference and last but by no means not least well designed PPT/Prezi slides

Have you ever seen anything that made a presentation particularly fantastic in your opinion?

  • Yes, when speakers interact with the audience
  • The above and elements of surprise.
  • Ideas presented in thought-provoking ways. Ideas that are informed by theory, research, or experience that serve as a spring-board for trying it yourself.
    NOT pedantic, but well-informed.
    Brief chances during a presentation to talk about, process, or experience the content with others in the audience/colleagues.
    When a presenter or their posse shuts down that one kook who is asking unrelated questions/trying to upstage/control the presentation inappropriately (the more swiftly and diplomatically they do so, the greater the “teacher take-away”!).
  • Speaker getting into the crowd and talking.
  • Fact packed, challenged preconceptions, and funny
  • I remember a very satisfying pronunciation talk where the guy basically admitted he had no idea how to teach it, and just turned it into a big sharing thing. I thought that was cool.
  • Paul Nation (quality star power) giving a 90 minute plenary without notes or PowerPoint slides. He has such presence you just want to believe everything he says and yet … I also once saw a presentation from a completely unknown person (meaning I have no idea who it was really) which was all about how she took a group of students who thought they were failures, gave them a few tools, and led them forward into making a video documentary about how their lives sucked and why they were working so hard to make their lives not suck. We learned about the kids, the city, the poverty, the whole thing. Then we saw the video and we cried with a kind of joy.
  • It’s almost always the speaker for me. Engaging, well prepared, solid message
  • Engagement with the audience – catching the audience’s attention (usually some kind of ‘hook’ but interesting / surprising facts work well!). Not relying on slides (not reading). Knowledgeable about the topic and happy to interact with the audience – asking and answering questions.
  • A good mixture of preparedness and (easy, natural, unforced) connection with the audience
  • I once saw a presentation on writing research findings that could have been dry and boring, but was incredibly engaging. They involved the audience in many small tasks.
  • One of the best ever was a Paul Nation plenary with no slides and seemingly no notes. There was a brief handout on each seat and he balanced theory, information, and a good anecdote or three.
  • Fantastic presentations have a lot of audience participation that is not forced
  • I think it has a lot to do with expertise with the content and being able to present well i.e Scott Thornbury and Ken Wilson = inspirational. David Nunan reading form slides full of text = checking social media
  • One of the speakers were guiding us for pair working and it worked very well.
  • Conviction, even passion, on the part of the speaker, but not dogmatic or hectoring
  • My favorite presentations are the ones that caused me to try something new because they gave me a clear idea of what they new thing was and they convinced me that this new thing would be useful.
  • Yes. The presentation file simply wouldn’t open. Laptop was swiftly turned off and the presenter delivered an engaging talk, without referring to any notes.
  • Involving audience.
  • An amazing command of lecture skills~like an actress
  • Presenter being at ease and enjoying the time with the audience makes it fantastic enough.
  • Russ Mayne’s 2014 IATEFL talk
  • I’ve maybe been lucky but, in the short time I’ve been in ESOL, I can’t remember a presentation that was boring or felt like a waste of time. Some are more pedestrian in their style than others but I’ve never found any tedious. Of course, a touch of humour usually makes a presentation memorable.

Additional thoughts as a conference attendee:

  • Back to back talks, many running at the same time, is unnecessary. Much better to be more selective with number of speakers and build in ample time between the sessions. Most attendees I meet at conferences are, like me, just as interested in sitting down and talking over coffee (or something stronger) as they are in attending talks.
  • Ensuring that although the theme is adhered to, that there is sufficient variety.
  • Scheduled time as some people come from out of town.
  • I don’t like when presenters decide to use PPT and then skip half their slides.
  • Too much dross ant EFL conferences makes it hardly worth anyone’s while going. I really don’t know why people go when you,could read a book which is cheaper with better info. I think conferences are just about networking.
  • Make them affordable. Too many conferences can only be afforded by those with research budgets and good salaries. JALT in Japan is too expensive for everyone. Also, conference organizers in general: get over yourselves. There are lots of conferences in the world. Just because you’re organizing one doesn’t mean you can learn from other people organizing conferences.
  • Free coffee is always good.
  • Conferences are well worth the effort. They refresh your thinking and re-energise you. It’s good to make new contacts and feel part of a professional and supportive community.
  • Think of logistics~minimize buildings, floors, etc. Keep It Simple
  • Having affordable food options or enough healthy food options can make a conference experience much nicer!
  • Plenaries or sessions should not start before 10 am
  • Friendly, welcoming atmosphere created by the organisers and helpers.
  • There should be room for reflection in any conference. Some quiet time where attendees can do anything else other than attending talks or sessions.
  • Long breaks are good for networking
  • Potentially off-topic, but themes can be overrated. When they work well and are organic to the conference they add a lot, but often seem to be just something that has to be there. Especially true of big conferences. Sometimes I really prefer a small tightly knit conference
  • I don’t want to be shilled.
  • I just want to learn and get new ideas.

The Importance of Teaching Culture to EFL Students

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Piccadilly, Photo taken from ELTpics by Christina Martidou used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

I am very happy to share this guest post from Ljiljana Havran, an English language teacher and librarian from Serbia.  Ljiljana has an MA in English language and has been teaching general English and English for Specific Purposes (Aviation English) at the Aviation technical school in Belgrade for eighteen years. She blogs at https://ljiljanahavran.wordpress.com/ and is @LjiljanaHavran on Twitter. I will turn it over to Ljiljana with thanks for sharing this excellent and informative post.

It was my great pleasure to write this guest post. The post was inspired by Mike’s posts and his reflections about teaching English to students in South Korea.

Cultures have widely differing characteristics and misunderstandings are likely to occur between members of different cultures. Intercultural communicative competence is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people from other language and cultural backgrounds. My main aim in the post was to explain how we can develop a culturally competent attitude, why we must avoid cultural stereotypes, and also, to point out the importance of teaching culture as an integrative part of EFL. I hope this post is interesting and useful to EFL teachers, and teacher trainers who are preparing people for cross-cultural encounters.

My first cross-cultural experience

After leaving my secondary school I spent a month in Brighton in an English home with an English family. My journey to England was a fascinating experience; the appeal of the exotic and different was not only about distant geographic places but also because of cultural distance. I was very curious about the differences, and so I was eager to experience all aspects of the English culture. I attended a summer course in a private language school for exchange students. I visited some fabulous castles, colleges, theatres, museums, and pubs. I enjoyed listening to melodious English language (which to my great surprise was a lot different from the English language I had been taught at school in Serbia). I met some nice and friendly people who did not match at all a well-known cultural stereotype of the English as reserved, unfriendly and cold. My journey to England was an experience of a lifetime; it was as if I had lived a completely different reality.

What is culture, and how can we develop a culturally competent attitude?

Culture is a way of life. It is the context within which we exist, think, feel, and relate to others. We tend to perceive reality strictly within the context of our own culture, and there is still a tendency to believe that our own reality is the correct perception. Using the norms of our own culture as standards when we judge the behavior of people from other cultures is called ethnocentrism.

In the bias of our own culture-bound world view, we tend to picture other cultures in an oversimplified manner, and we view every person in these cultures as possessing corresponding stereotypical traits. The thing is that stereotype may be accurate in depicting the typical member of a culture, but it is inaccurate for describing a particular person, simply because every person is a unique individual and all of person’s characteristics cannot be predicted on the basis of cultural norms.

If we say, for example, that the Swiss are very punctual, this could be seen as a cultural characteristic. This is because it is a pattern of behaviour which is very typical in Switzerland: from their transport system to their business meetings.

In this way, generalisations can have some value and be useful as long as they are not considered absolute. However, it is crucial to view all people as unique individuals and realize that their experiences, beliefs, values and language affect their ways of interacting with others. If people recognize and understand differing world views, they will usually adopt a positive and open-minded attitude toward cross-cultural difference. A close-minded view of such differences often results in the maintenance of a stereotype.

Milton J. Bennett coined the term “ethnorelativism” to mean the opposite of “ethnocentrism” – the experience of one’s own beliefs and behaviors as just one organization of reality among many viable possibilities. According to Bennett (2009), intercultural learning is “acquiring increased awareness of subjective cultural context (worldview), including one’s own, and developing greater ability to interact sensitively and competently across cultural contexts as both an immediate and long-term effect of change.” Bennett describes six distinct kinds of experience that spread across the continuum from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism.

“In general, the more ethnocentric orientations can be seen as ways of avoiding cultural difference, either by denying its existence, by raising defenses against it, or by minimizing its importance. The more ethnorelative worldviews are ways of seeking cultural difference, either by accepting its importance, by adapting perspective to take it into account, or by integrating the whole concept into a definition of identity.”

Ethnorelativism supposes that “cultures can only be understood relative to one another, and that particular behavior can only be understood within a cultural context” (Bennett, 2009). By recognising differences among cultures, and by constructing a kind of self-reflexive perspective, people are able to experience others as different from themselves, but equally human. Adaptation to cultural difference is not assimilation; adaptation is the state in which the experience of another culture yields perception and behavior appropriate to that culture.

Bennett points out that It is naive to think that intercultural sensitivity and competence is always associated with liking other cultures or agreeing with their values or ways of life. Some cultural differences may be judged negatively – but the judgment is not ethnocentric unless it is associated with simplification, or withholding equal humanity.” (Bennett, 2009).  For more information please see “Becoming Interculturally Competent.”

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My favourite Lancaster pub, and home to excellent blues, folk, and jazz. Photo taken from ELTpics by Martin Eayrs used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license

What does it mean to develop intercultural awareness in the EFL classroom?

The role of English as an international language of communication in the modern technological world in the 21st century poses special demands on EFL teachers. ELT researchers have recognized the dialectical connection between language and culture since mid-1980s. Krasner (1999) for instance, recognized the necessity for language learners to develop not only linguistic competence but also an awareness of the culturally-appropriate features of the language.

In recent years there have been more discussions and research focusing on the importance of intercultural sensitivity and intercultural communicative competence. EFL teachers should not just draw learners’ attention to facts about other cultures, but they should teach in such a way as to make it clear that communication is more than the exchange of information and opinions. Effective intercultural communication requires empathy, respect, openness and sensitivity.

It is very important first to raise students’ awareness of their own culture, and in so doing to interpret and understand the other cultures. Raising intercultural awareness implies the development of skills for successful communication, i.e. competent and peaceful interaction with people who are different from us. Such an approach assigns another important role to the foreign language teacher/learner: that of “intercultural mediator”, i.e. someone who is capable of critically reflecting on the relationship between two cultures.

EFL teachers will be challenged to exploit this situation by creating opportunities for communication based on the values, cultural norms, and needs of learners, rather than on the syllabi and texts/textbooks developed in native-speakers communities. Most importantly, an intercultural language learning programme should help the learners to develop an “intercultural awareness” in order to “translate” culture in their own context (Guilherme, 2002).

How could culture be fully integrated in EFL learning?

Cultural activities should be carefully organized and incorporated into the EFL syllabus to enrich and inform the teaching content. These are some useful ideas for presenting culture in the classroom:

  • Students read articles or extracts from books, newspapers, magazines or websites written by travel writers or people who have visited the students’ town, country or region. Discussion topics can include the norms and values of the culture, nonverbal behaviours (e.g. the physical distance between speakers, eye contact, gestures, societal roles).
  • Students discuss funny stories and experience they once had related to cultural issues, or misunderstandings. They can role play a situation based on cultural differences (e.g.  a situation in which an inappropriate greeting is used).
  • Using photos in class to explore various cultures and lifestyles and answering questions together can be interesting for your students; these activities enable lessons to take the form of collaborative discovery.
  • Students are usually curious about the different foods, art and songs that have value in different cultures, and you can teach that by incorporating important elements of cultural celebrations into English language classroom. 
  • Using proverbs in class as a way to explore culture, its values, and analyze the stereotypes of the culture. Discussions can focus on how the proverbs are different from or similar to the proverbs in the students’ native language.
  • Students create a brochure, guidebook, poster or webpage for visitors to their town, country or region. This should not only describe famous sites and places to visit, stay or eat, but also give visitors some useful tips about what they may find strange or unusual about their own culture.
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Burning dried oak branches on Christmas Eve in Serbia Photo taken from ELTpics by Jelena Mihajlov

Here on Mike’s blog you can find a lot of very interesting posts that can be used for discussions about culture and the role of the teacher. Also, you can find some ideas for teaching culture to EFL students. Some of my favourite posts on the blog are:

Couldn’t teach today because Confucianism

Korean Culture Tips

18 things about Korean Students

They gave me a fork


#30GoalsEdu: Send a Future Message

It is my great pleasure to reblog and share this post from Maria MariaTheologidou (aka @MariaTheo1) a new Worpress Convertee. In the post she sends a letter to her future self which really appeals to me. She has lots of interesting posts on her blog and a few others I’d recommend are:

Bye Bye Bad Habits

Share your edtech success story

Letter to my #youngerteacherself 

I also recommend checking out her fantastic singing (in this case with Fluency MC)

Welcome to the WP neighborhood, Maria!


The future is always a promise; a promise for a brighter, more enjoyable version of life or for the moment we will be able to live our dreams. It’s inextricably tied to the present though. As Shakespeare wrote, “It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves”. Our present actions/decisions determine what our future will look like and build the way towards it. Talking about the future and our expectations of it is an essential part of my lessons, especially my first back-to-school ones. Since the future might be intimidating, I want my students to feel that by setting small goals they can accomplish their bigger dreams and that anything is possible provided they work towards it.

Here are some of the future message activities I work on with my classes:

  • Something I do with younger students is to ask them to write a “gift letter” to…

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A short (mostly only audio) post

I have been wanting to do all an all audio post for a while and I even have a topic in mind but I never managed to do it. My class two weeks ago gave me something somewhat interesting to share so here goes….
(the story is just over 90 seconds long and can be heard by hitting play below)

Scaring students on the first day

The other day I was talking to a friend who also just stared the fall term at a university here in Korea. We were talking about schedules and plans and the weather and all sorts of things when my friend said, “I do enjoy scaring freshmen on the first day.” I was a bit surprised by this bold and potentially sadistic confession so I pursued a discussion on this by asking, “What do you do?” while not really knowing what to expect. What sort of scary tricks did he have up his sleeve? Did he dress up as a clown? Did he make them dress like clowns? Did he scream and yell? Did he make students do push-ups? Did he lecture them on the impermanence of life? Did he share statistics about youth unemployment in Korea? Did he have students march to the top of their desks or the building and recite poetry? Did he tell ghost stories? Did he explain how hard the course would be in a voice that would make a movie drill sergeant proud whilst getting bits of saliva on their first day of school outfit?


His response was not as exciting or cruel as I might have been expecting. He said, “I just use a stern voice on the first day. You know? Lay down the law.” That didn’t sound very harsh to me, and I found myself joining in, saying, “This is not high school anymore.” I think my friend could see I knew where he was coming from and he added, “They need it.”

I thought I was following my friend’s line of thinking for a minute there but then I got all wrapped up in my own thoughts. I wondered more about the scariness, thinking maybe he had students come to the front and do scary shit from minute 1, day 1.

Here I started to wonder exactly what students need at the start of the term. Do they need clarity or fear? Is fear a good way to get to clarity? Is it better to be feared than loved? Is warmth and rapport more important than fear? Is fear just a tool to help students get on board in the early stages so that rapport can be developed later on? Am I thinking too much about rapport because of the KELTchat on this subject?

I pondered the aspect of us both being “native” English teachers in Korea so maybe there is something here about the perceived roles of teachers and how serious our classes are or are perceived or expected to be. My friend sort of confirmed this by adding, “Some students expect it’s going to be a happy happy fun fun time, and sometimes it is, but they expect me to be like their HS English ‘teacha.’ Charades and all.”  I don’t really have anything against charades or high school or other previous teachers but I can see the benefit in letting students know from the start that this is something different and that their previous experiences are not a always great match for the tasks and expectations here. I suppose recognition could be scary for students, yet I suppose I am still mostly uncomfortable with intentionally scaring students.

I think I can see a few benefits to (slightly) scaring students at the start. One is potentially weeding out the students that are not there to learn and thus whittling down the class roster to a more manageable number. Another thought is that it is probably better for students not to be unexpectedly overburdened with the workload. Regarding interpersonal connections, there can be a nice feeling when the barriers break down over time. I think students can sniff out teachers that are trying to be overly friendly or chummy from the start and this might be annoying or distracting. Just some thoughts, of course.

My friend seemed particularly interested in expectations and helping students change their expectations about the course. He said his first year students, “think the writing topics will be along the lines of describing their bedroom and the process of making ramyeon so I have to set a serious tone from the get go, then open up some as we go along, especially when there are so many in the class.” His points sort of reminded me of the old, “Don’t smile till Christmas” advice younger teachers used to get. I am not sure I put much stock in that but I also realized every context is different.

What do you think of all this? How do you go about balancing between a serious and friendly tone? Do you wait until issues arise before laying down the heavy and reminding students that they are in a serious place?