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.


  1. robertjdickey

    It’s easy for presenters and attendees to say what they want. On the other hand, a lot of these conflict with other concerns (some voiced in these lists, some not).

    Money is a major factor. Government grants to conferences are on the decline. Harder to get a grant, and the allowances are less, with more restrictions and reporting requirements. (Like asking for passport numbers of all overseas attendees, which should comprise not less than 10% of all attendees, and resident-aliens don’t count… I kid you not!). Book publishers are cutting way back on marketing through conferences — fewer advertisements, fewer displays, fewer commercial sessions, fewer major speakers subsidized. Somebody has to pay the bills, so if presenters don’t pay registration, non-presenters should pay more?

    Taking conferences out of the big cities and “professional convention venues” saves rental costs, which are significant. Some provincial universities provide good facilities for free (or even with some financial grant!), but it aggravates travel issues for attendees and publishers (decreasing attendance) and makes wifi more difficult).

    For the more vociferous of the conference critics, I generally suggest they try working on a conference team to learn the inside issues. (I generally find Mike pretty reasonable, and I know he is part of an upcoming conference… it will be interesting to see how his views may change over the coming months.)

    KOTESOL does surveys of attendees every other year or so. I’m sure JALT does too. Ultimately, it’s a balancing act.

  2. mikecorea

    Hello Rob,

    Thanks for the comments. Much appreciated. I hope 2016 is off to a nice start for you.

    Did I imagine a somewhat defensive tone there? I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt in any case and choose to believe that you were interested in pursuing a discussion on these issues. I hope my tone does not sound defensive as I try to address some of your points. If I do sound defensive it might be because I felt the need to defend my right and purpose to share the results of the very simple survey I conducted.

    It seems your response was quite Korea (and KOTESOL) centric. Just to clarify, most of the respondents were not based in Korea and the post didn’t have much to do with Korea as I see it. The results/opinions were not in any way directed at a particular organization. Perhaps your points about institutions and venues were more general and I just assumed you meant in Korea. In any case thank you for the details and the (bleak!) picture you painted. This info about venues and money and such is helpful and important. Thank you.

    I was not sure which Mike you were referring to when you gave the backhanded compliment of the young year so far with, “I generally find Mike pretty reasonable, and I know he is part of an upcoming conference… it will be interesting to see how his views may change over the coming months” but I will assume it was me even if it is customary and typical to use the 2nd person when making comments on a personal blog. I am actually not involved in planning any conference at the moment. It occurred to me that maybe you are unclear about my role in ExcitELT. I am simply a featured speaker.

    I should also mention that nowhere in the post whatsoever were my opinions (or Michael Free’s for that matter) shared. I was just reporting what people (again from around the world) shared in response.

    You suggested that the more vociferous of conference critics should try working on a conference team to learn the inside issues. This is a fine idea. I personally have (co)organized 3 events for KOTESOL in the last 5 years (in addition to starting one of the (as far as I know) only active 2 SIGs. I know a small event is of course a different beast than a major international conference but I feel reasonably knowledgeable about the inside issues and inner workings of such an organization.

    You wrote, “It’s easy for presenters and attendees to say what they want. On the other hand, a lot of these conflict with other concerns (some voiced in these lists, some not)” and I think this is a good point. I fully agree with you that it is a balancing act. Well said.

    As for the ease in which statements were made by respondents I cannot say but I can say that a few of them are involved in conference planning already (and such thoughts will be in the next post). It was pretty easy to get these views and I am happy I shared them especially after getting comments from people in a variety of places thanking me for doing so and saying the info was very useful for them in their contexts and projects. You mentioned that KOTESOL (and likely JALT) takes surveys every year or so. Great. Best of luck to both organizations in doing their best as they see it to meet the needs of their members and attendees. I don’t remember seeing these responses shared with a more general public, though (as I have done here in a somewhat limited fashion). This is not to suggest that those organizations need to share their feedback results (if they are not doing so already) but rather just saying that what I have done in the post is something different. If the information I shared was not useful for KOTESOL that is fine with me as I am pleased it was useful to others and it was not offered directly to KOTESOL or any specific group anyway.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting. I appreciate your insights and thoughts. I hope I have cleared up a few things. Please be sure to let me know if anything is unclear or if you have additional thoughts,


    • Rob Dickey

      Hi again to all!

      Nothing defensive (I hope!), I try to step back on these things, see more than me. And my responses are not specific to KOTESOL or Korea – I’ve been in management of conferences since 1984, in diverse fields across the social sciences on both sides of the Pacific. (one on the Queen Mary, if you would believe that!). Nor was I challenging anyone, or any particular perception. Instead, honest exchange of thoughts. I find that focus on political correctness obfuscates — apologies if my directness offends anyone.

      I have found mikecorea very open-minded and fair. Even when I disagree. Particularly his responses to my disagreements! (Michael Free also. Any other Mike’s out there???) And I recognize that you were reporting survey findings in this and the previous post. (I did think you were involved in ExcitELT, which is an interesting concept.) But I was not suggesting that you are a vociferous critic. There are others…

      As for sharing the KOTESOL surveys, that’s not my place to do so, but as one who is active (and a past president) I can surely make the suggestion.

      Here’s the tough call for conference managers, and it plays directly to ExciteELT’s concept —
      — some folks want more social time at the conference (the ExciteELT model)
      — some folks want to get more sessions in during the day
      — some (many?) presenters complain that 45 minutes isn’t long enough
      — everyone prefers a cheaper conference
      — presenters want discounted registration (or free, or paid to present)
      — most folks want wifi and a big-city destination (more expensive for conference production)
      — everyone want full-tech available to presenters, and attendants to ensure it works correctly
      — presenters want more attendees in their room
      — attendees want more session options per hour.

      Did you know that there is professional certification for convention management? And still, put two certificated managers together and they will disagree…

      • mikecorea

        Thanks for the response, Rob. I appreciate it.
        I think the list of “wants” you shared looks like a good list for conference planners to take into account as they try to perform the balancing act we discussed.
        Thanks again for the interesting and fruitful (for me anyway) exchange.

  3. vittajp

    Thanks for posting this and the attendee results, Mike. They have been useful since I’ll be reentering the East Asian context in April and will hopefully reengage with the ELT/Applied Ling. organizations therein (teaching at a Japanese Uni on a direct contract). I want to discuss the ‘being paid to talk’ point from my experiences with KOTESOL: began by paying to present — later, programmed chaired 2 conferences; was a funded speaker and local/chapter events

    Our field is somewhat unique in that everyone in it could have something meaningful to contribute, unlike theoretical physics for example which would only be interested in bona fide academics. You don’t need a masters to develop a working classroom management system for kindergarten EFL learners, for example. And, keeping with this hypothetical example, one could execute a simple quasi-experimental design assessing its effectiveness so long as she was motivated and knew where to find the appropriate guidance. So the point is that our conferences tend to be and should be a big tent offering a divergent range of information from and to a divergent range of people. What is more is that academic activity in our field is somewhat stratified in that you grow into larger and more recognized roles as you increase your engagement, especially when coupled with the acquisition of post-graduate qualifications. The question becomes what should organizations pay and charge for, respectively.

    What should organizations pay for?

    The above question in my view is answered in terms of ‘access’ in that talks/presentations are funded when they facilitate access to in-demand or useful information. In the 2012 National Conference, there were funded/invited (an assumption but I remember the program book credited them as such) speakers addressing the now quasi-dead NEAT exam. These were Korean stakeholders who clearly had insider knowledge of the process and KOTESOL rightly funded their contributions to the event because NEAT was a big deal at the time and attendees would benefit from hearing what they had to say. In 2013, Keith Folse shared his positions on lexis in the ELT process and attendees therefore had direct access to one of the prominent ‘lexis’ voices in the field to inform their understanding, etc.. KOTESOL’s funding of his attendance was therefore justified in my view. On a smaller scale, KOTESOL funds chapter presentations by members/those in the Korean setting who have ‘interesting’ or ‘thought provoking’ talks or workshops on the go. Again, the idea is that good ideas/practices have been identified within the community and the organization funds their being shared. This allows home-grown people to also see their work funded when appropriate.

    What should organizations not pay for/When should individuals pay for the privilege of sharing their ideas?

    This is difficult question to answer without sounding pompous so please read without thinking that I’m a jerk. As mentioned earlier, different players in our context have useful things to share but not everything that can be shared is of equal value. One of KOTESOL’s strengths is that its presenting members are eager to share. One glaring weakness is the inability to frame (by some) what they are sharing with suitable quality control measures in mind. A presentation that simply shares what works in a person’s class and preparing attendees to perhaps replicate it in their class could indeed be useful. In fact, attendees probably prefer these type sessions to theoretical lectures with good reason! When this presentation fails to tie its contents to the broader literature and theory while also not addressing issues credibility/validity (how exactly do you know this is working?), then perhaps the organization doesn’t really need to pay for this and perhaps the presenter should fund his participation given the potential benefits of doing so. I myself have presented flawed research (which I only discovered was flawed once I fully developed my quant. skills in the doctorate) from my MA but 1 – I could list it on my CV and 2 – actually helped attendees use peer analysis in their teaching/learning environments.

    The benefits of being active in conferences shouldn’t be understated as well. In Korea, employers seemed to not be very interested in what I was doing but in Saudi and Japan, my activity and continuing development in terms of quality and the types of activities performed were very helpful and landing positions. Obviously, anecdotal evidence isn’t very useful but being active in conferences, publishing, etc. does help one’s career and we all have to start somewhere.

    –Joe Vitta

    • mikecorea

      Thanks very much for the insightful and interesting thoughts. I appreciate it very much, especially because that paying issue seems to be such a big deal for some folks. It never really bothered me all that much and I just figured it is the cost of doing business and if I have to pay a bit more for tech support (etc.) then that is fine with me. Otherwise I figure I don’t need to present. I think your point about us all needing to start somewhere is spot on as well.

      I appreciate you taking the time to share your comments and I think the added to the discussion well.
      My only slight disagreement is about the usefulness of anecdotal evidence as I found what you wrote here extremely useful!

  4. Pingback: On organizing ELT conferences and events | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections
  5. Pingback: What presenters want from ELT conferences | ELT...

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