78 comments on “What makes a good conference?

  1. Thanks for this Jeremy. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a conference I didn’t enjoy because they are what you make of them. It’s the combination of talks and ideas coupled with the intense socialising that always accompanies conferences that is like a little taste of paradise. I am feeling a bit sad as I won’t be able to come to IATEFL this year and had to cancel TESOL Greece too that just took place this weekend. I’ve been listening to all my friends tweeting and talking about their conference experiences, and that has cheered me up no end as I can feel their excitement and enthusiasm which is infectious. As you said, the talks, the plenaries etc are all really important and I always come back from conferences refreshed and invigorated and full of ideas (I always write a “to do” list on the plane/train etc on the way back). The venue is important in terms of user-friendliness etc. but I have also had some great times at lousy venues. So that is not the main pull (though free wi-fi always scores high points with me)! I get to see people I haven’t seen for a long time and I’ve made some great friends at conferences too. The book exhibition is interesting (a chance to update) and there is always the local area to explore and the chance to go out in a way that isn’t part of my working life as I have too many other responsibilities to juggle to be out every night. Last year at IATEFL Cardiff, I went swimming every morning at 6.30am before the day started – that was just wonderful. All in all, its a real privilege to be part of that scene, and I hope I will be again before too long. Hoping to get to Belgrade in May so fingers crossed! It sounds like you had a great time!

    • Hi Sara,

      I really love your enthusiasm. And in the end it is al about the people you meet and talk to/network with I think.

      Good plenaries, good workshops, and then good people to talk to about it.

      Sorry you didn’t make TESOL Greece. It would have been nice to see you in Harrogate.

      Jeremy

  2. I think you’ve hit upon many of them there, and I’m not sure I can add much. But I do know what you mean about TESOL. I went to TESOL for many years, and while it got better for me (primarily because I knew progressively more people), I never really enjoyed it. Something about it being just too big, I think. IATEFL is much more manageable. (I always felt also that there was another reason TESOL didn’t work so well, but it may have to wait until another time).

  3. Having just come from the very mixed bag that was TESOL Greece, I think I may post something more fully on my blog about this very same topic.

    Like you said, venue and organization are important to make sure things run smoothly.

    However, for me, the people make the conference, both the people you meet and the sessions you attend. I met up with some wonderful Twitter friends and made some amazing new ones as well. Professional and personal relationships that I believe will continue far into the future. This was certainly the highlight.

    The biggest drawback I saw was boring speakers that a) seem to think a powerpoint equals an effective presentation and b) don’t practice what they preach. You can’t give a talk on motivation and not actually be able to motivate your audience. You can’t talk on learner-centeredness by lecturing. And for god sakes, get rid of the powerpoint or knock it down to a few to-the-point and effective slides.

    Instead, give me ideas that I can actually use in my classroom and show me how to implement them. Also, make sure the information you present is new and not something I’ve heard a thousand times before. Otherwise I actually get a lot more value out of complaining about and discussing your failed presentation with the other unfortunate souls who attended.

    • Hi Nick,

      thanks for this.

      Of course I quite ‘enjoyed’ discussing reasons for thinking a plenary was not a success in Dubai last week. But I much more enjoyed discussing what I got out of – and what my colleagues got out of – the good plenaries/ That was good sharing.

      As to powerpoint, well I wrote an anti-powerpoint article for HLT.mag which was actually a pro-powerpoint-used-correctly piece. I am a big fan of powerpoint (well now, for me ‘Keynote’ because I use a Mac) provided that people use it to enhance and explain what they have to say rather than giving death by bullet point etc.

      And yes, motivaton can be a killer!

      Jeremy

      • Focusing on the highlights is all well and good, but as Darren pointed out, going to conferences in not easy. I spent 22 hours on a train from Istanbul to Athens that cost 90 euro one-way. Then I had to pay 68 euro to get into the conference even though I was invited to present. This is all on top of the hotels, food, and money lost for time taken off work. In the end it cost over 300 euro just to attend the conference and let’s not forget 1 euro is 2 Turkish lira. That’s a hell of a lot of money and time spent to see bad presentations. And my situation wasn’t that bad. Others flew from Japan or America.

        You’re right, powerpoint can be used correctly, although I have the feeling it’s much like a course book. Bad presenters will be bad regardless just like good presenters will be good.

      • Hi Nick,

        that’s a LOT of money. And yes, I think conference organisers need to bear that in mind when they organise conferences.

        I certainly remember one highly ‘respectable’ presenter, whose articles I have enjoyed reading, flying from Hong Kong to Liverpool to give a talk at IATEFL, where she got 0 attenders for a talk of hers. Ouch.

        That’s why it is SO important for conference organisers to plan right, and do everything they can to support teachers through scholarships etc. And, in the end, the hope that employers will support their teachers so that conference going is possible for the many, not just the few!

        Jeremy

      • I’ve never really thought about a definition of what I see as theory. Upon reflection I’d say it’s the constructs we believe have enough explanatory power to base judgments upon in regards to good practice. In all honesty, from the conferences I’ve been to, this is really just boiled down to he said/she said, i.e. Freud said this, Skinner said this, etc.

        No, I wouldn’t say everyone would be in agreement – never happens. However, just because everyone doesn’t agree with me doesn’t mean I have qualms about stating my own opinion. I’m just as willing as the next person to listen to criticism of my opinions.

        I also don’t buy into the idea that because my opinion is subjective that it somehow doesn’t hold water, a topic I’ve brought up before on this blog. I’ve stated my reasons for what I think entail a bad presentation in the comments above.

      • Hi Nick,

        Thanks once again for your clarifications. That was very helpful.

        I wasn’t specifically talking about theory in the way you are using it – I was talking about the influence of world view and how that impacts on a presentation. For me, the ideas someone has about teaching and learning, as well classroom spaces and the world outside have a place in conference presentations to help the audience understand where they are coming from. I know you mentioned before that “astute” teachers will see this anyway. I am not sure that is true. And even if it is shouldn’t a good presentation aim to involve all rather than only those clever enough to read the subtext?

        Another level is acknowledging how theory developed by others influences our work. No-one arrives at a conference with a complete repetoire of brand new thoughts and innovations (or at least extremely rarely) – most people are adding their own slant to things already in existence most of the time – I think its really important to show the audience some sense of the journey that you went through to arrive at the point of your presentation.

        Another element is the importance to my mind of a variety of input at conferences. I am very happy to attend presentations that talk of nothing more than, for example, the effect of streaming on learning, or how testing affects teaching, as I am to attend a “how to” classroom based presentation. The former will have to draw on a) theory of the world (i.e. whether this is positive/negative or both and why) and b)research to connect the idea to some sort of outcome that is based on more than just the gut instinct of individual teachers. But perhaps this doesn’t suit everyone and I understand that. I am all for more variety for this reason, and careful flagging of type of presentation etc may help to overcome this.

        So for me, theory is about much more than just what a particular commentator had to say (your Skinner, Freud example),though I am always interested in the vast number of ways ideas are interpreted by presenters.

        To clarify my thoughts on the other point. Of course I support your right to a strong opinion as I do my own frequently🙂. I also have definite opinions when leaving presentations about what I think. I just am not certain that everyone shares my view or that the issues that I have outlined as important could be developed into universal properties of a good presenter. I read what you mention above again which is a) boring b) ineffective use of powerpoint c) contradictory presentation style to content d) not enough ideas for use in the classroom e) repeats of ideas heard many times before.

        I suppose what I was hoping for was a bit of development on those ideas. But that’s fine if you feel that the list is extensive enough. This is a very different list to the one I would come up with so I guess that goes back to the subjective nature of the debate on good or bad presenters. I know that you feel that presenters should deliver the goods as you said, but it seems that what goods are wanted is quite variable. So I wonder what the solution is?

        Thanks again Nick!

        Thanks again for the chat.

      • Sorry Jeremy, looks like I’m late to the party. My only excuse is preparing bulletless PowerPoints for our upcoming ISTEK conference. I would love to read your article on what makes a great PowerPoint because I agree with you that when done well PowerPoint can be effective.

        I agree with Marisa and Nick’s assessments of the recent conference. Like Nick the people I met made it for me.

        Also, I would have to add that at these conferences I really appreciate the cultural aspects involved. TESOL Greece was especially strong in this area versus the other conferences I have attended. I really enjoyed eating the Greek food and dancing the Greek dances. At the other conferences I did not have such a strong sense of being introduced to the city and I’ve been to quite a few this year. Therefore, I was disappointed in the quality of presentation skills but thought this was where this conference outshined. Also, I want to point out it was the skills because the material was great for some presenters. However, I know some that focused too much on theory versus the application of the theory. When I go to conferences I want to see the applications because this is what the presenter is really passionate about. I’ve already had my teaching pedagogy. I just completed a Masters in recently and had enough theory. What I really enjoy is passion like you mentioned and how creative an educator is in applying theory. I felt the plenaries fed us so much theory and did not provide specific examples or anecdotes of how the theory was applied in a real context. I didn’t feel passion from them. I felt as if they were showcasing their intelligence. However, I wonder if the reason this occurs is because educators like Marisa, Nick, and many of us online know our theory when perhaps the conference is thrown for those who are new to the field?

  4. Hey Jeremy, I really loved the tips. I’m pretty sure they’ll come in handy in our next Braz-TESOL [July].

    I remember some conventions I’ve been to in Brazil and they were not as interesting as I expected them to be. One of the weak points was related to equipment failure. Another thing that it’s really terrible is the fact that some people think they are stars and avoid mingling with others. In my humble opinion, mingling is the very central idea in conventions and events.

    If you don’t mind I’d love to publish your post on my blog so that participants for our next Braz-TESOL get some ideas of what to do. Is that ok?

    Take care!

    • Hi Denilso,

      yes, equipment failure is a nightmare.

      I think that ‘stars’ that don’t mingle are not stars at all.

      Of course you can use my post (properly acknowledged).

      I look forward to seeing you at Baz-TESOL 2010.

      Jeremy

  5. I would like to echo your point 4 Jeremy “Good perfume often comes in small bottles!…there were only about 200 of us. We spent three days together and so had a chance to get to know each other. People referred to each others’ sessions and we all knew what they were talking about.”

    Have just spent 4 days at IATEFL Slovenia and had a similar feeling. One thing I really like too is when people are there from start to finish and experience both the opening and closing session.

    At our Hungarian IATEFL conference last October the final session, moderated by Szestay Margit,was spent sitting round in groups collecting thoughts and themes which had come out of the conference. I think it worked very well.

    In Topolsicein Slovenia this weekend,around 60% of the talks came out of Slovene primary and secondary classroom experience and having that amount of local input would be an important factor for me.

    If it is a teacher association that is organising the conference, it’s nice when people from other teacher associations attend the annual general meeting and contribute their experiences from their own association and listen to how the host organisation works. Much can be learned from both the content and process of different association’s AGM’s.

    • Hi Mark,

      how interesting that you picked up Denilso’s comment (I mean you focused on something that he focused on) – people who stick around for the whole conference and mingle. That makes it so much nicer. I hate it when publishers fly me in for, say, just a day.

      Local input really matters – especially for a visitor like me!

      Jeremy

  6. The other thing about TESOL, and I’m a bit wary of how to put this, is something to with work-life balance.A good conference needs to have a god balance between the professional and the social. And TESOL for me seems not to have the right amount of balance, with too many people being too serious for too much of the time. I’m not sure if this is cultural, with the work ethic being so heavily accented there or just something that is to do with my experience of it, but it has always seemed to be too much work not enough play. (And in latter years it’s not like I was lacking in a social network there, so it’s not just being outside looking in).

    This “seriousness” also seems to affect the presentations with (in my experience) there being a far greater proportion of “I want to show how professional I am by boring you to tears with my PhD research, and not really getting past the literature review” style presentations. At many other ELT conferences I’ve been to – in Europe, Asia and the Americas, I would say that the chances of a random presentation being both entertaining and a great learning experience is about 80%, whereas at TESOL it’s closer to 50%.

    Hope no avid TESOLers take offence! It’s just my own personal experience!

    • Hi Andy,

      I completely completely agree that conferences should be fun too. After all, teachers are giving up 3 or 4 days to have a good time. Hopefully they will be re-energised, reassured, happy when it is all over.

      It’s funny about research presentations isn’t it; they CAN be wonderful. But on the other hand…

      Jeremy

      • Yes, I wouldn’t like to suggest that research presentations are bad. Many of them are very good – and usually representing original work they can be extremely informative. But there are many which are awful – I understand why someone who has recently done a PhD or is in the middle of one is completely absorbed in their own research to the point where they feel every part of it is vital and part of the whole…but when asked to distil it into a 50 minute presentation it does appear to be depressingly common for people to fail to do that well, which leaves the audience having to sit through a presentation which runs “I was interested by this topic because… (15 minutes), which led me into a comprehensive review of the literature (30 minutes of quotes and different angles on the subject), which in turn led me to the following research question (5 minutes), but sadly that’s all we have time for.”

  7. Great post, Jeremy – just come back from attending TESOL Spain, so I was really in the mood for this. You’re right about so much depending on the talks you choose to go to. I chose well this time and went to a real variety of workshops and talks. The standout ones for me were the workshops by Roisin O’Farrell on communicating with children, which left me enthused and excited about teaching my Primary class this Friday, and the fascinatingly different ‘Make a portable Interactive Whiteboard’ (using a Wii controller, for 90 Euros!) by the funny and talented teacher and circus performer @mattledding. Matt’s workshop was so off the wall and seemed so destined to failure (I mean most presenters would think twice about showing a website live at a conference, let alone having to build your own IWB on the spot before being able to do it), and yet it all came together as planned and the packed room (quite something for a Sunday morning) lapped it up. It didn’t even matter that the conference was held in what has to be the ugliest city in Spain (Lleida), we managed to find a great tapas bar on Saturday evening to meet up with online and f2f friends and colleagues, new and old (great to finally meet @kalinagoenglish in person too) – all-in-all, a great weekend and conference

    I agree about TESOL too – I presented at the New York conference a few years ago and hated it. I couldn’t believe the number of and the shocking prices. As a presenter, I had to pay full price for the conference and was charged 100 US$ to rent a data projector for an hour (I wanted Internet, but couldn’t afford what they were asking). Some wonder that 90% of the presenters were either funded by publishers or universities. And despite the number of presenters, the choice seemed limited, and we’d arrive at the room for a presentation only to find there were no places left because the room was too small. The saving grace was the social life around the Electronic Village Online – meeting the Webheads f2f was the main reason I wanted to go, and that made up for the disappointment of the conference itself.

    • Hi Graham,

      TESOL Spain sounds great, and exactly the kind I was talking about. Your phrase ‘enthused and excited’ says it all.

      Lleida? I went there once, years ago, sharing a day of presentations with a guy I had never met called Scott Thornbury!

      Jeremy

  8. I like the smaller conferences, too, and ones where the local teachers (and local issues) are really given some priority, with some nice global flavouring from a few (well selected) international experts.

    I totally agree with Jeremy’s point about plenaries. Unfortunately, I experienced a run of plenaries by people who looked like they didn’t care less whether they were there or not, or had made no effort whatsoever to understand some important issues going on in the local context.

    Funnily enough, I’ve also generally found that for YL/Teens ELT, this almost always seems to work better when it is given its own conference. I think a lot of YL/teens teachers feel a little shut out at the larger conferences, or even “looked down on” by adults-oriented ELTers. Given their own space and focus, YL/Teens teachers very often make the most enthusiastic conference attendees!

  9. Hi Jason,

    yes, well recently I have had the experience you describe – speakers who look like they don’t care less, and I think that’s unforgiveable. If you get asked to do a plenary, the least you can do is give it a bit of ooomph!

    Yes, local people really matter.

    Jeremy

  10. At the risk of sounding bitter, I feel I have to take you to task a little bit Jeremy. Some of us are not able to travel to quite so many conferences – schedules, geography and budgets get in the way. So while your take on it is interesting, it is rather like hearing the royal family complaining that their caviar wasn’t quite the right temperature at the reception in Burundi.Or listening to a rock stars second album.

    Seriously though, my university pays for me to attend conferences only if I am presenting, and then only within budget. In some ways, we are fortunate in Japan to have a well organised national association, and there are fairly regular local and regional events with a solid national conference every November. On the other hand, after a few years you soon figure out who is who. It’s nice to catch up, but as far as cross poliination of ideas go you are pretty much limited to the featured and plenary speakers. Like you, I want my conference to be more than a few beers and a catch up with old buddies.

    On top of that, there is no chance of me making it to IATEFL as long as I am teaching here, as it takes place at the start of the academic teaching year. There is a possibility to get to KOTESOL or CAMTESOL, but Asia is a lot tougher to get around than Europe. I can’t blame you for that, of course. But think of the little people, Jeremy!!! We don’t all get the chances you do!

    Rant over. I actually enjoyed this post, and I guess if I put the work in, write several very good books, and give great presentations, I might be able to write something similar myself in twenty years….

    • Hi Darren,

      thanks (?!) for the rant.

      I entirely accept that one’s take on conferences will be different if, like me, you go to quite a few. Nevertheless just going to a few JALTs and some regional sessions gives one a feel about what works and what doesn’t. Some JALTs are better than others, for sure.

      My own unease, especially in the UK, is the lack of funding that some schools put into helping their students to attend conferences. It makes me mad.

      But there are counter examples to make you feel pleased and proud. For example many organisations fund scholarships so that people can attend (see for example the wide range of attendance scholarships that are available for IATEFL) and that is a trend I entirely support and admire – and the people who do all the work of vetting applicants etc).

      As for me, yes, well I do get invited to a lot of conferences. Just a matter of years and years and the kind of work I do, I guess. But it’s only because of that that I feel brave enough to put down some thoughts!!

      Rant on!

      Jeremy

      • There is a reason that you get to go to so many conferences, of course… Hope to see you over here in Japan sometime!

        I’m with you on the scholarships – I’ve been lucky enough to get funding from JALT in the past, and they have excellent programmes like Teachers Helping Teachers, which sends teachers to run workshops in Vietnam, Bangladesh and other developing countries. They also work with the Asian Youth Forum to help students attend the larger conferences… I shouldn’t really complain as I can actually afford to fund my own trips.

        And we mustn’t forget the sterling work the online IATEFL conference team are doing. Almost as good as being there. Almost…

    • I’ve come back to Darren’s (and my follow up) comment on this issue, because I feel to some degree it’s a bit of an unfair criticism of the “thrust” behind Jeremy’s post here.

      Blogs are personal thoughts in a public sphere and are usually pretty unique to the backgrounds and priorities of the people who write them. Doing the conference scene is something Jeremy does on a pretty huge scale (and we can all agree he does it really bloody well), so I think it’s more than appropriate he would choose to write about and court comments on this particular topic. There is also definitely an audience for it – even if we all know it’s not something every teacher-surfer out there would be able to relate to (or conversely would feel a little envious of🙂

      I can relate to your comments Darren, but it would be a little bit like an institute teacher in a (poorer/less developed) South-East Asian setting coming onto your blog and making comments along the lines of “not all of us have the luxury of teaching in a university setting in a modern country like Japan, you know.”

      I’m probably making too big an issue of it by writing this, but I think it’s fair to say that Jeremy is not attempting to re-write PELT here, and that it’s great he can write about what interests and concerns him. We readers can choose what we relate to from that and what we can’t, and choose to get involved and comment accordingly.

      Anyway, defense rests, and on with the show!

      • Wow, Jason!

        (and thanks for the ‘well’ comment: but as you know, sometimes the magic works – a good match of talk and audience and time and place etc – and sometimes it just doesn’t ‘take. Pretty much like other kinds of teaching. Presenting is risk-intensive and that, of course, is what gives it that particular frisson!

        I think you are right that blogs are about personal interests etc – hence me going on about matters to do with presenting etc, since it’s something that is a major part of my life. On the other hand I do think it can sound a bit irritating to read people talking about a world you would like to live in but currently don’t so much!
        But I think Darren reminded me to start talking about scholarships. and he’s mentioned e.g. IATEFL online, and that’s good!
        And so, as you say, on with the show!

  11. Darren’s points might make for an interesting follow up discussion to this post Jeremy. Part 1: What makes a good conference? Part 2: Who makes it to a good conference (and who doesn’t)?

    I can also relate to what some people (including Darren) have said about the cost associated with going to a conference outside your district (let alone country/region) if you’re not a member of one of the publisher cohorts. The times I’ve gone to and presented at conferences without my coursebook cap on, I certainly had to pay for it through the nose. The times the coursebook cap was on – well, what can I say? I wasn’t exactly presenting exactly what I would have (really) liked to.

    🙂

    • A good point (Jason) about the cost of conferences. And as you will see from my reply above to Darren, I really admire the scholarship schemes that some conferences have running to counter this.

      I guess it would be nice to work out how to make conferences cheaper. I know for a fact that organisers are always asking themselves ‘hotel or school’ etc. There is always a tension between what u can offer in a conference and what it should cost.

      Jeremy

  12. Andy Hockley :

    Yes, I wouldn’t like to suggest that research presentations are bad. Many of them are very good – and usually representing original work they can be extremely informative. But there are many which are awful – I understand why someone who has recently done a PhD or is in the middle of one is completely absorbed in their own research to the point where they feel every part of it is vital and part of the whole…but when asked to distil it into a 50 minute presentation it does appear to be depressingly common for people to fail to do that well, which leaves the audience having to sit through a presentation which runs “I was interested by this topic because… (15 minutes), which led me into a comprehensive review of the literature (30 minutes of quotes and different angles on the subject), which in turn led me to the following research question (5 minutes), but sadly that’s all we have time for.”

    Yes, Andy, I have been to those presentations!! But I have also been to some lovely stuff where you get, say, 5 PhD students given 15 minutes each to say what they are doing. I have heard some great stuff there.
    I suppose presenter skills are important whatever you are offering?

    Jeremy

  13. Graham Stanley : It didn’t even matter that the conference was held in what has to be the ugliest city in Spain (Lleida)

    Bit harsh on Lleida. Didn’t you get to see the Catedral de la Seu Vella? http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catedral_de_la_Seu_Vella_de_L%C3%A9rida

    Jeremy, as for conferences, I’ve only been to one – The Language Show at Kensington Olympia. Don’t know if that’s similar to TESOL, IATEFL or what, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. I’d echo your point on taking a punt on a presentation to get something out of an event.

      • I’m sure you’re right, Mike, but I couldn’t get as far as the cathedral because the roads were blocked by all the building work going on there at the moment🙂

        Re. organising committees and the choices they make being important…

        I totally agree. There’s one conference I’ve stopped applying to present there now and rarely go to despite it being so close to home because of the way it’s organised.

        Even though space is not an issue, the organisers only programme 3-4 speakers to choose from in each time slot, which does ensure packed lecture halls for each session(where the talks/workshops take place), but it means there’s not much for people to choose from.

        And many of the audience (who are mainly state school teachers) go to a session in each time slot even though they are sometimes not interested in it because they have to have their quota for it to count towards their required annual professional development.

        The worst case scenario is when a session is cancelled and you see people packed into the rooms – some of them squeezed in and sitting on the stairs of the lecture hall, bored and waiting for the session to end before it’s even begun.

      • Jeremy, I really enjoyed the Language Show. I’m definitely looking to getting to more conference type events in the future.

        Graham, what a bummer. The cathedral really impressed me when I went to Lleida, but then I do really like exploring places like that – which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I agree there’s not much else (that I saw, 6 years ago now) to Lleida.

        Mike

  14. Darren Elliott :

    There is a reason that you get to go to so many conferences, of course… Hope to see you over here in Japan sometime!

    I’m with you on the scholarships – I’ve been lucky enough to get funding from JALT in the past, and they have excellent programmes like Teachers Helping Teachers, which sends teachers to run workshops in Vietnam, Bangladesh and other developing countries. They also work with the Asian Youth Forum to help students attend the larger conferences… I shouldn’t really complain as I can actually afford to fund my own trips.

    And we mustn’t forget the sterling work the online IATEFL conference team are doing. Almost as good as being there. Almost…

    Thanks for reminding us about the excellence of online-ing conferences such as IATEFL. That really helps!

    Jeremy

  15. Pingback: the lives of teachers » Blog Archive » comfortable shoes, no powerpoint, free coffee and a good plenary

  16. Hi Jeremy,
    I really enjoyed TESOL Arabia though I didn’t expect to at first given the horde of people attending. I did find out that some workshops that were not given that importance and that were conducted by school teachers were very useful. They share their experiences and reflect on their practice with us.
    I was however disheartened that the conference delegates were cut to less than half on the last, which limited the options of sharing ideas.
    All in all, the conference was a success, especially your “finale” ” The Love you take”. It brought tears to my eyes🙂
    Let me reiterate your saying that it is the kind of people who attend the conference and the discussion that happens after the plenary that counts most.

    Cheers
    Ammar

    • Hi Ammar,

      thank you for your kind words.

      Maybe the reason I really enjoyed TESOL Arabia was precisely because there weren’t as many people there as people might have hoped??

      I completely agree that hearing teachers share their experience is really enjoyable.

      Yes, let’s hear it for the attenders!

      Jeremy

  17. I agree with all of what Shelley had to say. The cultural element of TESOL Greece was very well done and was a great addition, especially for those who didn’t have time to get outside the conference before going home.

    Also, as Shelly mentioned, the need to connect the theory to classroom practice is so important. How can I use what you’re telling me? One of my favorite presenters is Ken Wilson. Ken doesn’t present a lot of theory, he incorporates best practice into a lot of useful and practical ideas for the classroom. If you know what Ken is talking about, you can see the theory behind the ideas, but it’s not necessary to know it. I’m far from convinced that knowing the theory behind the practice is that beneficial as long as you can see what works and what doesn’t in your classroom. Somehow, understanding Freud’s theory of motivation or the intricacies of generative grammar simply don’t come across as that useful to me when it comes to the classroom, especially if the theory isn’t given much credence for applicability these days.

    I do wonder about whether or not conferences are for newer members of the field. Most people I meet are quite experienced. I’d be interested in numbers on that one.

    • Hi Nick,

      I completely agree with your admiration of Ken Wilson as a presenter: entertaining, informative and useful.

      Understanding theory does not necessarily help anyone, but teaching would be a strange thing to do unless we had some theory, some beliefs to hang our activities on. The kind of theory papers/research papers that I have enjoyed made me think about stuff I had not thought about or had forgotten about.

      You make a very good point about who conferences are for. It does sometimes seem as if there is a large group of, ahem (chosen on purpose) older people around who’ve been sloshing around the circuit for years. But many of the talks I most enjoy are by people starting out, full of enthusiasm for the world they are discovering and experimenting with/in.

      I think that in general conferences (e.g. not App ling conferences etc) speakers need to to try and think how their talks will appeal to the widest range of participants.

      Hope we find ourselves attending the same talk one of these days.

      Jeremy

  18. Hi All,

    I probably will only be repeating here so many apologies🙂 A very interesting thread indeed so thanks Jeremy and all the other contributors. I think that any presentation can be interesting if it is done in the right way and the person in charge really thinks about how to connect with their audience. In these kinds of discussions there is always a risk of separating things that IMHO are better looked at together i.e. theory/practice or research/practice. Surely the ideal conference should and could have a balance of both.

    I think it also depends on where you are personally in your developmental journey. All of us probably have a tendency to want to pull a conference into the shape that suits our own likes/dislikes, rather than considering we are one of many attendees with different needs. If we look at it from a distance a bit more, we might appreciate that what doesn’t suit us, might well suit someone else and therefore is just as well placed in that conference as the types of presentations we personally find more stimulating. If we leave with the view that the presentation we just sat through had nothing to offer anyone, well perhaps that’s different, but this is rarely the case. I say this as someone who now has distinctly different interests to those I had, say, 10 years ago, and who perhaps now looks for another kind of conference exprerience as a result. I am tired of feeling that to get what I “need” I must purely attend academic conferences which may remove me from the classroom which is so important to me.

    Re: Theory/Practice I think every presentation should have a balance of both and I hope that theory doesn’t cease to be relevant once people move outside a context of studying language teaching. I know it sometimes does (sadly) and this is more to do with the ways it is taught in a disconnected way to what actually takes place in the classroom. If someone does a talk on practice and doesn’t use any theory, well then the theory they are using is there but undeclared, as everyone draws on some sort of world view to make their claims, however ‘practical’ they may seem. For me, I also don’t really want to sit through a practical presentation where it is clear to me that the presenter has not thought about how their own influences or biases are affecting what they are doing. So awareness cuts both ways! I want to see balance as this helps me to believe in the holistic nature of what I have been presented. Theory/Practice are a dialectic – one cannot exist without the other.

    So in summary – a good presenter spends time thinking not just about content, but how to make that content appealing and relate back to the audience. I think to suggest that this means the “best” presentations focus on practice is a red herring. The best presentations make the audience feel engaged and take something from the presentation away with them, at whatever level. And this is a totally subjective thing, as each of us interprets presentations entirely differently. It is a real shame to think that anyone leaves any presentation with absolutely nothing – even if it is a stronger sense of how not to do something!

    And there is one last point which is to do with generosity of spirit in how we view other people’s work. For me, the bottom line is that someone has had the courage to stand up in front of an audience and speak. Even if we might look at this effort and think “I could have done that better” or “I would never have done it like that”, it is wise to perhaps consider how we would all feel if someone talked about our presentation in the way we might be talking about theirs!! Some food for thought there. Noone goes into a presentation deliberately setting out to bore the audience, though this may be the result for some. Just like learners, the reasons for this are so varied, it would take a century to deconstruct them.

    For me, my expectation in that respect does increase with the experience of the presenter. I want to see development and in most cases the more presentations a person does, the better they often become. However, what I also don’t like is when I feel that those who have been awarded by our profession with a position of authority i.e. ‘big names’ just turn up and don’t make much effort – when you get the feeling they are just on a treadmill of presenting. This is a lack of respect for the audience and people should know better. This is not always the case of course and sometimes the person is just as good in real time as they are on the page, but it can be.

    OK, that’s my tuppence worth!

    Enjoy weekends all round

    • Sara, I find myself in a rather unusual position… I disagree with you! OK, perhaps we might be more forgiving to a first time presenter than a keynote speaker, but if someone, ANYONE, stands up to speak in public…. they had better make it worth listening to. Part of that, and part of what Shelly alludes to, is pitching it to your audience… making sure the abstract gives the right impression, going to the right conference, all that jazz.

      However, your point about the ‘treadmill of presenting’ is not just applicable to big names, but also to a lot of people in academia in general. The paperchase of research, publication and presentation – not in a genuine spirit of discovery, but to fill a CV, is encouraged by many employers and institutions who value this page count over any evidence of good quality teaching and learning. For that reason, I might forgive a presenter who had nothing much to say…

      • That’s fine Darren! Disagreement is what blogging is all about, and learning from each other. Thank you for your interest and further comments. I also agree with Shelly’s points about pitching to the audience (I called this connecting), so I am there with you both on that one. That is why I think a good presentation is more than its content (though content is very important).

        I also agree that the treadmill of presenting is not just a pitfall of big presenters. Indeed the publish of perish attitude of academia these days makes it a requirement of the job for many, so indeed they may lose their enthusiasm through this imposition. It goes hand in hand with the commercialisation of research which is a tricky business and one that I have very mixed feelings about. However, I am not sure how your point connects to ‘good’ presentations. None of the above precludes so-called academic presentations from being worth listening to (I put academic in speech marks as I am not comfortable with the divide between academic/practice as I pointed out in my last comment).

        The ‘big names’ issue is something I have observed when people are flown into conferences and do a presentation that has probably been the same one done elsewhere at many other events (and that is often how publisher sponsorship to TAs works these days – i.e. the publisher chooses which presenter will go). I have noticed that sometimes (and can I emphasise here the sometimes) this leads to a presenter who hasn’t tried to their talk a local flavour or find out who the audience is. Such a flying speaker may underestimate the local expertise and get it wrong. Now as this person is doing this often as a full time profession I think they owe the audience more than that. I do not see this person through the same lense as a local presenter who may be doing this for the first time and only present subsequently once per year at a local event as funds do not allow them to travel further afield.

        My point about experience is something that I think still stands. Just as a new teacher can flounder in connecting with their students, so can a new presenter. So perhaps this needs to be taken into account? I can think of some very ropey first attempts myself when I started doing conferences that were terrorisingly scary, and I only just got through them. I would have been mortified to think that people would then blame me for the fact that I didn’t do a good job! I did the best I could with all the nerves etc that go with first time presenting and that included researching the audience and looking for ways to connect. Antenna for connecting is much more open as less focus is required on the ‘management’ aspects of a presentation. Experience plays a role here!

        OK hope that’s clearer!

    • Hi Sara,

      you wrote “I think that any presentation can be interesting if it is done in the right way and the person in charge really thinks about how to connect with their audience.” And that’s the beginning and end of it really. I completely agree that there is nothing more dispiriting than a speaker ‘name’ trotting out the same old stuff with a lack of real engagement. I hope to God I don’t come over like that!

      You make a point I completely agree with – i.e. when presenters just chuck a whole lot of (often enjoyable) activities at you with no real underpinning to tell you what they think they are there to achieve.I love practical sessions, but I always prefer to hear the thought that has gone behind them too.

      And lastly…’generosity of spirit’. Yes. I try to be generous in my perception of/reception of other people’s presentations. Of course sometimes natural jealousy and comparison caused by an overactive ego trip me up. Occasionally I get worked up by stuff I disagree with. Sometimes I get mad at ‘names’ who are not trying. But mostly, you sit there thinking that they deserve our love and sympathy and support. And the more you think that, the better the presentations becomes. Magic!

      Jeremy

      • Thanks for this Jeremy. Not sure where this comment will end up in the chain but its in response to your 20/03 10.30am comment!

        Agreed. Personally (and I don’t only say this because its your blog and so there is pressure there :)) I have seen five of your presentations in different countries and I was always struck by how great they were – full of life, ideas, analysis, activities, music, humour and explanation of how it all connects together with the philosophy behind it. Fast moving and exciting. That’s how I like em! Lots of layers to unravel which is the best way to touch a diverse audience IMHO.

        I remember one (in Athens) where I was amazed you had sound samples in your powerpoint and also visual clips embedded. I at the same conference was doing a presentation on using varieties of English in the classroom and was working with music, film and a presentation on different equipment – you were ahead of your time and I immediately returned home to Thesssaloniki and sought an expert who could show me how to do that too! Thank you.

        I think it is very human to react to presentations emotionally and intellectually – we all do. But in the end, perhaps its a good exercise to really look at what we don’t/do like and break it down. My experience is that our egos are involved straight after having seen a presentation – what remains the next day is the important point. I sometimes really fundamentally disagree with the views/ideas expresssed in a presentation – but I can still enjoy it. And that is probably what I will take away with me to talk to others about.

        An important rule of thumb for me in “generosity of spirit” is also about seeing people do things on their own terms – I mean really seeing *them* and not how we would approach things. It may be very different to the way we choose to do something, but no less valuable. A positive disposition always improves the experience in my view! That does not remove the right to disagree, and most presenters love to have a discussion post-presentation on such issues and questions.

        I also want to echo (though this comment is more relevant later in this thread) the extremely hard work put in by conference commmittees who are usually working as volunteers. There will always be things that can be improved of course, but getting a conference off the ground is a massive achievement. When I was on TESOL Northern Greece board almost everyone got sick straight after the conference from the weeks of exhaustion leading up to it. Wouldn’t change it for the world, but worth keeping in mind!

        Thanks again!

  19. Shelly Terrell :
    Sorry Jeremy, looks like I’m late to the party. My only excuse is preparing bulletless PowerPoints for our upcoming ISTEK conference. I would love to read your article on what makes a great PowerPoint because I agree with you that when done well PowerPoint can be effective.
    I agree with Marisa and Nick’s assessments of the recent conference. Like Nick the people I met made it for me.
    Also, I would have to add that at these conferences I really appreciate the cultural aspects involved. TESOL Greece was especially strong in this area versus the other conferences I have attended. I really enjoyed eating the Greek food and dancing the Greek dances. At the other conferences I did not have such a strong sense of being introduced to the city and I’ve been to quite a few this year. Therefore, I was disappointed in the quality of presentation skills but thought this was where this conference outshined. Also, I want to point out it was the skills because the material was great for some presenters. However, I know some that focused too much on theory versus the application of the theory. When I go to conferences I want to see the applications because this is what the presenter is really passionate about. I’ve already had my teaching pedagogy. I just completed a Masters in recently and had enough theory. What I really enjoy is passion like you mentioned and how creative an educator is in applying theory. I felt the plenaries fed us so much theory and did not provide specific examples or anecdotes of how the theory was applied in a real context. I didn’t feel passion from them. I felt as if they were showcasing their intelligence. However, I wonder if the reason this occurs is because educators like Marisa, Nick, and many of us online know our theory when perhaps the conference is thrown for those who are new to the field?

    Hi Shelly,

    you are always welcome to the part. early, late or otherwise!

    Showcasing intelligence? Well sometimes that works, but it has to be done (that was one of my points) with passion, not disconnection!

    A good conference has a blend of theory and practice, I think. I DO like having brainfood sometimes, listening to someone with something interesting to say about a subject I do not have a detailed knowledge of.

    But a conference without things that teachers can actually use? That’s a bit pointless, I feel.

    You can check my powerpoint article at http://www.hltmag.co.uk/may06/mart04.htm(tongue in cheek, cause it’s really about why I LOVE powerpoint – well now I’ve migrated over to Key note cause it’s better better better, but the principles are the same.

    Jeremy

  20. Sara and Darren,

    Very interesting. In the back of my mind I was thinking along the same lines as Sara and felt a bit chastised, but in the end I agree more with Darren.

    If there was a nervous new presenter of course we will give them the benefit of the doubt and a lot of support. Instead, presenters often come across as know-it-alls or, as Darren said, people simply looking for something to put on their CV. All too often, this is a product of academia with its emphasis on being published for being published’s sake.

    Presenters have a responsibilty to their audience and a good presenter should be able to read the audience and adjust accordingly.

    I do think you’re right Sara that many of us are there for different reasons, but does that mean I should be happy about bad presentations? I also think most of us can make the distinction between something that simply didn’t align with our interests and a bad presentation. If it didn’t interest us we’ll shrug it off, but still give our compliments. A bad presentation is bad regardless of the topic or our interests.

    I think Marisa made a good point that plenaries and workshops should indicate the audience expected. Some conferences do this and ask for intended audience in their proposals, which is a fabulous idea and I would like to see more of it.

    As for theory vs. practice, I will always vote practice. A person familiar with theory can see it behind the presentation or workshop, but even those unfamiliar with it will walk away with something useful. On the other hand, it is much more difficult to listen to a theory and then immediately translate that into classroom practice, as is very very clear from the many student-teachers that come out of theory heavy university systems yet have no clue what to do in the classroom. Sure, balance is all well and good but the scales should be tipped in favor of practice. If I want the theory, tell me the book titles and I’ll read them on my own time.

  21. Jeremy,

    My background is in education (and by default and passion, TESOL). One thing that irks me to death and should be added to your list of what makes a good conference is…..scheduled gatherings where educators can voice their own opinions/concerns/efforts/ideas/feelings. This seldom happens outside a few Q and As I’ve attended at conferences. To be more specific, ALL conferences should have lesson sharing sessions without any “personality or leader” in the room. Just teachers talking shop around some focus/topic. We call it lesson sharing. Each teacher brings a lesson plan to the session. They are collected, copied and each person in the room goes home with a bundle.

    Also, a good conference has to have “outreach”. So few don’t. I enjoyed very much IATEFL’s videos on viddler and they really brought the conference to the masses. This use of technology should be par for the course, even for the most stodgy and elite of conferences. IMO, most don’t use it to any good ends. I’ve yet to see conferences in TESOL have great discussions online, use twitter interactively or really bring the conferences to those on their couches.

    My own feeling about presenters is that they should be vetted. If you don’t pass muster, you shouldn’t be presenting in public – I don’t care if you wrote the King James bible! I’m with Darren on that one. I’ve wasted so much time on those with good ideas who’d be better off just giving me their article than articulating it in person. As you yourself know Jeremy, it takes a special person to present effectively. Yes, much can be learned along the way but at the end of the day, there has to be a foundation to build upon.

    I really second Nick’s comments about ppt overkill. I’m intending on chucking it shortly. There is an old adage that I think speaks volumes to both presenters and conference organizers – “teach your mouth to speak what is in your heart”.

    But thanks for reminding us of these “necessities”!!

    David

      • Sara,

        If I were to do this, I’d suggest that there be a minimum requirement of experience. And by that I mean, time spent on the classroom floor. There is no substitute for that and at the end of the day – in TESOL, that is what it is all about. Not demeaning anyone who takes up a research track but they can go to very specific conferences dedicated to those professionals and persons. I wouldn’t let anyone who hasn’t been teaching full time for over 6+ years present. (in education – it is usually 10 years but in our field, with such large turnover, this isn’t feasible).

        2. I’m sure that conference organizers could also require references instead of just sitting around a table and thinking…ummmm what sounds good? I think there is too much accent on topics when the most important thing should be “do we have people who can motivate, communicate, empower others?”

        I’m sure there are other ways to make sure that the right people get in “that” right place. (and Marisa suggested a few in regards to committees). But those are my suggestions.

    • Hi David,

      I really like your insistence on places/times where teachers can ‘share’. A conference I loved some years ago was where teachers all had the opportunity to do 15-minute presentations (when the bell rang everyone changed round). 15 minutes of a fine time for anyone to quickly explain a recent lesson they taught or an idea they’ve had. It really worked because even the newbie presenters can easily fill 15 minutes, and because it was like being in a sweetshop!

      Jeremy

  22. Hi again Jeremy,

    A great discussion and I want to return to some of the points made by my PLN here but perhaps from a different point of view, that of organising a successful conference and what I have read, as well as my own experience as a conference organiser, leads me to believe that we need

    – Committees of strong readers of abstracts and summaries submitted
    – Abstracts and summaries available well in advance
    – Very clear guidelines to future presenters, especially first time presenters
    – Very clear marking/labeling of talks – some may be for beginner teachers but this should be said
    – strong networking in advance of the conference to involve conference goers and presenters so that the latter can understand their audience a little better
    – A balance of theory and practice in every talk, at least for teacher conferences
    – Opportunities and incentives for members to meet other members and network
    – Opportunities for informal and unstructured exchanges of ideas, e,.g. swap shops
    – Social and cultural activities – fun times during the event
    – Fair and open procedures of electing officers and holding general assembly meetings to encourage members to be more actively involved

    For me, the most memorable and successful conferences have been the TESOL Greece 15th Anniversary Convention – I was then a board member and our membership had reached 1600 members, as well the first International Conference in Ankarra and one in Istanbul the following year (1993-4) with speakers like Henry Widdowson, Keith Richards, Mario Rinvolucri, Angi Malderez, Theres Doguelli and Rod Bolitho.

    In Greece, nowadays, perhaps the best conferences are held on the island of Crete, organised by the Pancretan Association of Language School Owners, a powerful and absolutely wonderful group of school managers who have education in their mind and fun in their hearts!

    Which suggests to me that somebody ought to talk about organising committees and their role in the success or otherwise of such an event.

    But I suspect that no one will want to do this. I certainly don’t wish to open the local can, if you know what I mean….

    • Hi Marisa,

      well yes, that is quite a can to open. But the success of a conference really DOES have a lot to do with the organising committee. After all they set the rules, the tone, the standard of everything that is to come.

      I have never been actively involve din running a conference, though I once edited a conference programme (and that was a nightmare). Reading your comments made me remember how much of a debt we, the conference goers, owe to the many people, almost always doing it for free in their spare time, who, like you, make the thing work.

      The best thing about our world is that people give time freely, and volunteers are kind of self-selecting. The worst thing about our world is that people do it in their spare time and are self-selected!!

      I think you are right to highlight the need for organised events/places for swapping ideas and opinions. At TESOL Arabia (until next week, my last conference)I had a chat with two or three guys who had put together very successful and challenging poster presentations. A wonderfully informal way of getting a point across and having a discussion.

      I would love all conference organisers to read the comments that have been made on this blog!

      Jeremy

  23. I’ve been having a hell of a time this week with comments not being uploaded. I think my work computer is against me. Here is try number 2.

    After reading Sara’s post I had felt a bit chastised because I had worried about similar things as to talking negatively about a presentation, but in the end I agree with Darren. Presenters should know and be able to read their audience. They also have a responsibility to deliver the goods.

    There are a fair number of know-it-alls or bored PhD students presenting simply because they have to. This is one of the major problems within academia in general. I’ve also recently heard some horror stories about people who present just to pad the resume but put no effort into the presentation.

    There is a big difference between a newbie presenter and simply a bad presentation. I think most people are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone brave enough to stand in front of their peers.

    I also think there is a difference between a presentation that doesn’t interest me and a bad one. I can walk away from something I’m not into and say, “That was good, but it just wasn’t for me.” I’ll still give props to the presenter. On the other hand, a bad presentation is a bad presentation regardless of the topic.

    I also 2nd Marisa’s notion that labeling audiences is a good idea. I’m attending a couple conferences where you have to state the intended audience of your workshop, which would go a long way in helping people make the right choice I think.

    As for Sara’s balance of theory vs. practice, I don’t agree so much. An astute teacher will be able to see the theory behind some good practical activities. In this way, everyone will take something useful away from a practical workshop. However, it’s very unlikely that a teacher would be able to make a lesson based only upon hearing the theory. Sure there should be a balance, but it should fall heavily in favor of practice.

    • Hi again all!

      Very interesting discussion.

      I thought Marisa’s list was very comprehensive and she was right to bring in the conference organisers and the kind of support offered both in a hands on way and through information in the programme etc. That is indeed essential especially for new presenters.

      Nick you raise some interesting points (and now it’s my turn to feel chastised!). Would it be possible for me to ask you to define what you mean by “theory”? I think that might help me to understand where you are coming from better as I am not sure that we are working with the same definition at the moment.

      Just a quick question to you before I close – are you sure that everyone in the room would always be in agreement on what a bad presentation is? I agree with you that there are cases where unanimously conference goers seem to dislike a particular talk, but one thing I have always been struck by is (on the whole) the diversity of opinion on presentations that always seems to be present i.e. one person’s meat is another person’s poison (and other similar expressions!). What criteria would you be using to assess that a presentation is universally bad and how can you be sure that this is watertight? Just curious as I wouldn’t feel as confident as you to assess anything other than my own view on this matter as I would always be wondering if someone else who attended thought the presentation was the best thing they’d seen at the conference. What I do know is people who I tend to converse with and who have similar outlooks to me usually agree if they are at similar stages and have similar outlooks. But once you go beyond that….

      I am now wondering which category I fit into – the “know-it-alls” or the “PhD students” – perhaps it is both :)??

      Thanks again for your response. Hope that you get an easier time of posting next time. I had some problems today too😦

  24. I can see where Nick is coming from, and the list that you, Sara, have distilled to a) – e) makes some sense. But personally I don’t need ideas for the classroom from every presentation – I am happy to hear ‘theory’ if it helps me to clarify my own ideas, or reconsider my own beliefs about teaching and learning.

    As for powerpoint, I have yet to see a presentation which couldn’t have been done just as well without it….

    • Hi Darren,

      well as to powerpoint – have a look at the latest post on this blog. I have put up an article I wrote some time ago because I was asked to (honest). I think powerpoint (or Keynore, my preferred programme right now) is a really good piece of software IF USED IN THE RIGHT WAY!!

  25. Hi Nick and Sara or vice versa,

    your conversation has been really interesting and touches on lots of questions that affect us all in this discussion. I have picked up questions like ‘Why do ‘names’ parachute in and just give the same talk? Why is theory boring, if it is? What is a bad presentation? etc etc

    I really like that both of you – if I read it right – want to support inexperienced presenters (of course you do!). I think on the whole this is a very supportive profession, and I certainly have sat in session smiling encouragingly to try and help nervous people through their time of trial. I think that’s because we all know how tough it can be, and we also know that some first-time presenters offer real goldust, unexpected and sometimes largely unsung.

    The theory and practice thing is really challenging for me. I think I end up agreeing with Sara that my ideal conference is a mixture of both. I DO enjoy going to session which engage my brain and challenge what little pretension to intellect I can lay claim to. Of COURSE I like good classroom stuff, especially when offered by people who have different teaching styles/opinions than mine. But I also want to be challenged in the brain area!

    I THINK (don’t want to put words into Nick’s mouth) that sessions where people just trot out the same tired theory CAN be very off-putting. That’s perhaps what you mean, Nick? But where people bring theory along which I am not completely aware of, that feels great!

    Ah yes, but the ‘names’ who do the same old talks. That IS a problem, and not just for attenders. I could not POSSIBLY have a new presentation for every conference – though I have about 8 or 9on the go at the moment. And of course if I am asked I can/will prepare a new topic when requested. But it’s damn difficult to craft a good session. It takes time. And sometimes we don’t have that> So that’s perhaps why ‘names’ sometimes just trot out the old stuff.

    BUT – and this is a big but, and I should reassure you that I don’t think I SHOULD trot out the same old stuff, even if/when I do – the only talk I have walked out of (helped that I was standing right next to the door) was by a big name who showed no interest in what he was saying, used language which was the wrong level for the people he was talking to (as any fool could see), theorised a subject that should have been involving and pragmatic, and looked like he’d rather be somewhere else. I was genuinely shocked.

    I would far rather go to a session that made me mad cause I disagreed with it than that. That presenter should have been ashamed of himself, but I bet he wasn’t!

    I reckon I have just described what I consider to be a bad presentation!

    (and by the way I am completely conscious that some of my presentations are better than others, so I don’t speak from a position of self-righteousness; but I hope i never ever look as if I don’t care!)

    Jeremy

  26. I think this will be my last foray into this discussion. Getting a bit long🙂

    I agree with you Sara that some grounding in theory is good and I have no problem with theory being incorporated into presentations. I just don’t think it should be the primary emphasis much of the time. I also like to see where a person is coming from, but I don’t think it’s necessary for them to show me the personal journey they went through in 45 minutes. I’d rather get the end point and then see the practical applications. Extensive background is best saved for private discussions, books, and training courses.

    Also, I’m not against presentations that don’t necessarily equate to classroom practice. For example, Marisa gave a nice presentation on teaching online. No “real world” classroom application here, but I got some good information out of it. A presentation on the way language schools advertise themselves won’t have a connect-to-the-class component of course and that’s alright.

    The list a-e you mentioned above sums up my opinions on the subject. I think a lot of us could go back on forth on what boring entails or to what degree you should practice what you preach in a presentation, but I don’t feel I’d get a lot out of really digging into this. I believe we have different interests on this one:)

    I agree with you too Jeremy that new theory would hold more merit at a conference than the same old stuff most people have seen somewhere along the line. I for one would like a classroom component somewhere in there though. I understand that that may be a purely personal desire. I’m actually a really big theory hound and love getting into it, but I prefer it in book or discussion format rather than a presentation on teaching.

    I have to say, I’ve really enjoyed this discussion. Thanks to all the contributors!🙂

    • Dear All,

      This will also be my last contribution to this thread as a very busy week ahead and may have to cut out blogging for now (perish the thought!).

      Just a few follow up comments.

      To Nick. Totally understand if you don’t want to delve any more deeply. Ultimately I think what I am proposing is that all different models of presentations form part of the conference programme so that everyone’s needs are met. So I would go for diversity in the knowledge that what suits me, may not suit others. This selection process is important there I think. I do think the idea of “boring” is very subjective, and althought I agree broadly with your list, I cannot comment without some further exploration as I am not sure any of those points are self-evident or at least not to me. What one person finds motivating another person may not (in relation to speaking about motivation in an unmotivating way). We would all have different views on what that means. It would be extremely difficult to arrive at a consensus on that hence the diversity approach perhaps being best likely to cover all bases. For this reason, and in reponse to David, I think EL conference should have space for those involved in research – action research based in classrooms is an extremely valuable contribution to our field and one that we all gain from. Plus there is a problem in how this goal would be achieved – would we ask people to submit abstracts that do not mention research at all and exclude them if they do?

      On first glance, David, I thought that your model for selection seemed like a very reasonable suggestion and I can see it working in some contexts. However, in ELT I think we need to take into account that most conferences that ordinary teachers attend are organised by teachers’ associations in their locality who are (usually) entirely dependent on volunteers. In my experience as associates’ coordinator for IATEFL which put me in touch with TAs from all over the world, the single thing that defined them was that there were never ever enough hands on deck. Conference selection processes are often not that rigorous and those sitting on executive boards may lack a layer of experience there – I agree this is a problem, but am not sure that imposing a time limit is the answer. More TA training in such matters as conference organisation and management issues is certainly needed. I also some some fantastic examples of brilliant conferences organised by TAs and they seemed to have a very tight, democratic and knowledgable board who brought that about.

      Re: the 6 years. I am not sure that would solve the problem. This assumes that experience automatically means better presentation. Whilst I accept that new presenters may lack the confidence, which can affect the final outcome of their presentation, what has also been pointed to in this thread by Jeremy and I agree with him, sometimes experienced presenters do lousy jobs of presenting. In my experience as a conference goer I cannot say honestly that if those who had less than 6 years experience in the classroom had been excluded it would have meant the quality of the conference would automatically have drastically improved. Indeed some of the best presentations I have been to have been done by newbies who have a fresh perspective to offer. What I would say is that perhaps there could be a way to support new teacher presenters (as indicated by Marisa) to ensure they get the assistance they need when taking their first steps into presenting.

      Whilst a conference selection committee can vet abstracts and their content, they cannot tell on paper if someone would be a good presenter. In the same way a CV does not equal an interview. I personally cannot see a system that could do that without excluding some potentially excellent speakers and still including some who don’t really make much effort at all. This factor cannot IMHO be legislated for. Even in conferences where the process of selection goes through several stages of blind review etc, there are still, on the day, disappointments. Perhaps that is the human factor. What I do agree with is that some sort of system does need to be in place. I am still not sure which is the best one.

      Have a good week everyone!

      • Hi Sara and Nick (especially) and David and everyone,

        I have been gratified by the fantastic discussion that has taken place as a result of a post written in post-conference euphoria. In particular Nick and Sr’s discussion – helped of course by everyone else – has been intriguing.

        Here are a few ?final (well, you never know) comments that all the comments have made me think about:

        1
        I completely agree with Nick about the awfulness of some research-based presentations, BUT I have been to some that have enthralled and challenged me. And I remember an Exeter IATEFL sessiosn where 5 PhD students all presented on their research. 15 minutes each, so never boring. And the discussions were great. of coruse that’s just like any meeting of PhD students, but it was fun to be thereI recall.

        2
        What makes a boring/bad/unsuccessful presentation? Gosh, that’s a big one. I remember arriving too late to hear a plenary by a ‘name’ and friend. Everyone was saying how wonderful it was. I mean everyone. grammar Mcnuggets. What a wonderful idea. It had clearly hit a spot. And then I met one person (perhaps the only person at the conference) who was all frothing at the mouth and saying how disgraceful it had been. Er… I guess it’s like movies. Some people think that ‘Life is Beautiful’, the Begnino film, is profound and beautiful, but me I think it’s the most horrible repulsive film I’ve seen. How do we account for that? Am I crazy (probably!) or do I just see things differently? It is/was ike the reactions to the film ‘Crash’ about racial tensions in LA. Hailed as a cross-cultural masterpiece by some, it was denounced as ‘predictable, pretenitous, racist nonsense’ by others.

        I have sat through some boring talks at conferences (and not everyone has always agreed with my evaluation) and also, occasionally, been moved to tears: Joy Murphy, for example, an elder of the Waranjiri tribe in Melbourne telling stories of here childhood/education etc. No classroom relevance there, but a great dollop of what it is/was to be human.

        In the end I think I still believe (passionately) that if someone has something even mildly interesting to say, they can engage me if they actually put some heart and thought into what they are doing. THAT’s what matters in the end. The human being in front of me.

        As for conference committees etc. I think sometimes we forget (have I said this before) to pay tribute to the many teachers who are prepared to spend hours and hours of their time organising conferences on our behalf. Sure they get satisfaction from it, but they usually do it for free, and as a form of public service it seems exemplary to me. I wish they all knew how grateful we are, even though we don’t articulate it enough sometimes.

        Right, work calls. Blogging must cease for a little bit!

        Jeremy

    • Nick,

      yes, I have enjoyed this discussion too – and very pleased that it took place here since a lot of good issues have been raised.

      What I get from you is experiences of having listened to drony presentations about theory, presentations which could have been far better done by writing them down and giving them to you to read. I ave certainly been to presentations like that.

      (I am not surprised that Marisa gave a nice presentation!)

      I hold to the view (wow, how pompous that seems) that plenaries have a duty to inform, but also to entertain to some extent. So if theory IS the issue then it has to be presented in a challenging, amusing and thoughtful way. How does that sound?

      Jeremy

  27. David :
    Sara,
    If I were to do this, I’d suggest that there be a minimum requirement of experience. And by that I mean, time spent on the classroom floor. There is no substitute for that and at the end of the day – in TESOL, that is what it is all about. Not demeaning anyone who takes up a research track but they can go to very specific conferences dedicated to those professionals and persons. I wouldn’t let anyone who hasn’t been teaching full time for over 6+ years present. (in education – it is usually 10 years but in our field, with such large turnover, this isn’t feasible).

    Nice arbitrary timeframe Dave, and a very useful way to democratise the profession and help ELT become more inclusive…..

    • Darren,

      I make no apologizes for wanting some “standards”. That’s a red herring, saying it isn’t democratic and such. The world works like that and TESOL should be setting these WELL RESEARCHED (not arbitrary) findings in place. There is a great correlation between experience in the classroom and knowledge of “how to teach” – wouldn’t you agree? Of course, it isn’t an end all and be all but it is a place to begin. I’m not excluding anyone from the profession and I’m all about helping and training others. However, when people spend lots of hard earned money, spend lots of their hard earned time, come vast distances — they justifiably should get the best the profession offers. And at the end of the day — those individuals who’ve spent the time on their feet and the years filling out lesson plans — those are the ones best to be oozing with professional wisdom. I pay hommage to the long term teacher by putting him or her in their rightful place — as someone who has a kind of tacit knowledge that would benefit many teachers. If you think that we should fill conferences with teachers getting experience giving presentations — I think you are wrong. They’d be better off continuing to get experience in the classroom instead of trying to get their name in the spot light (too often the case with the last few generations that too often believe they are entitled without “time”. ). That’s my belief anyway.

      David

      • I think the standards thing is important, but impossible to set up. What would organizers do? Call references and verify CVs? Not a bad idea, but I don’t think it could ever be practically applied.

        Also, I don’t agree that there is a great correlation between time in the classroom and teaching. I have found that experience rarely equates with good teaching. I have even found sometimes that the more experienced they are the more set they are in their ways. I just met a guy that teaches Shakespeare to his general English ESL students (actual Shakespeare, not modernized) and he’s been doing it for 40 years. That just sends up red flags all over the place to me and that’s a moderate story.

        I also don’t think a good teacher necessarily makes a good presenter although one would hope so.

        I agree with desire for high standards of presentations, but I don’t think your method of ensuring this would be very effective.

  28. Unfortunately I can’t afford IATEFL either – but what made it great for me last year was going with a group of friends/colleagues. After that excellent experience, I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. We split up the sessions and met in between to talk them through. We usually left out one we had planned each day to have tea instead. And we spent the lunchtimes and evenings together, even watching a game of football. The comference can be as big as big can be, but if you’re with friends, it’s water off your duckish back.

    • Hi Anne,

      thanks for this fantastic reminder that it’s what happens with people – especially in the spaces between talks etc – that makes a conference come alive.

      Friends! They make a conference, don’t they?

      Jeremy

  29. Hi Sara,

    so this is probably a last comment on a last comment (but you never know….).

    As I said before, I like a mix at my conference; of theory and practice, of teachers and theorists, of mean and women, of old and young, of workshop and plenary etc etc. I am fascinated by the fact that the presenters I admire and luck (and see frequently) display a wide variety of presentation styles, form the hyperactive to the stationary, from the ‘all-together’ to lofty performance etc. It’s a wonderfully rich world out there.

    As for what we don’t like; what theory means etc etc:

    I agree that few of us have anything truly original to say, but with any luck good/interesting speakers may have an original ‘take’ on what they are saying. That’s why Nick and I would have agreed the other day when I listened to someone I should admire giving a fairly straightforward account of Piaget stages(‘old’ theory) with no especially idiosyncratic take on it, nothing especially funny about it, no ‘left field’, nothing to draw you in and get the synapses connecting (do synapses connect?)

    You wouldn’t have enjoyed it either!

    Thank you so much for a genuinely interesting and enjoyable discussion.

    Jeremy

  30. heri*emy. i can’t understand the flying A that you’ve talked about in motivate the unmotivated. especially AGENCY could you please give me full explanation about it pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease.

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