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On not conferencing

As I write this blog post, I’m feeling a little stupid and annoyed with myself. You see, this week is the second time that I’ve found it necessary to withdraw my application to attend and give a workshop at an international ELT conference. I previously had to do this for ISTEK last year, and today withdrew from participating in the IATEFL Slovenia conference in Topolšica this March. I want to say thank you to Lea and Sandra for their time spent exploring the logistics of my journey from London to Ljubljana. I really do appreciate and am truly sorry for the inconvenience I undoubtably caused you both.

You might think that it shouldn’t be difficult to travel from one place to another these days, affordably and in such a way that you can do so around commitments such as speaking at a conference. I actually could get to Ljubljana, but there are a number of reasons that my mindset is changing in terms of attending conferences, both as a delegate and speaker. I hope that stating them here helps me get the reasons clear in my head why I probably won’t attend very many ELT conferences and other events in the immediate future.

Travelling isn’t always that easy
As I mentioned above, it is possible to get from London to Ljubljana when I’d need to in March, however the actual logistics are a bit more complicated. Travelling via an Italian airport, such as Venice or Trieste, there are affordable flights from the UK. However, these options necessitate either a second flight to Slovenia, or a transfer by minibus to the train station in the Slovene capital. Taking one of these options would mean missing almost half the conference. Direct flights are costly and have even more inconvenient timings.

This is more or less the same situation I found myself in when I was planning to travel to Istanbul last year. Given the investment of time and money I make in weekend conference trips (more on money later) it really detracts from the value of making such a trip if you can attend only half of the event or possibly even less.

The cost can be too much
A lot of teaching associations make it easier for their speakers in this respect, and both ISTEK and IATEFL Slovenia were and are reasonably priced events. However, once transport, accommodation and food has been factored in for a weekend conference trip, you can easily expect to be paying about £400 or above. Unfortunately, I don’t make the kind of money that makes this affordable if I can’t attend the whole event. I pay my way completely, as there is not any support I can request from my institution for these kind of trips. Nor am I sponsored by any other organisations such as examining bodies or publishers. I actually work as an examiner and for an arm of a publishing company now, albeit freelance, and still have no idea about getting financial support to present at conferences.

What I get out of attending conferences
I enjoy attending ELT events, I really do. I appreciate the social side of things and relish the opportunity to meet and catch up with people I usually only interact with as tiny avatars on Twitter or Facebook. I love talking about teaching and discussing all the issues we have questions about.

I also love the buzz of delivering a session at a conference. I feel it pushes me to voice my own thoughts, a really effective form of personal and professional development. I also get this buzz watching other passionate and interested colleagues present. It’s infectious!

And yet, when I think of tangible outcomes I get from conferences, I come up a bit short. I am really bad at networking, and if publishers actually do things like sending scouts to see conference sessions, then I think they must give mine a miss. I have no idea how you approach them if you think you have a half-decent idea for something.

I’m starting to question the investment, of both time and money, as well as finding myself at a crux where I feel quite jaded about teaching as a whole and conferences in particular. I think in the future I need to be much more careful in planning how many conferences I can actually attend, if any, and work out how I am actually going to get out of them something worth the effort I put into them.

If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d be really interested to hear what you have to say.