Reflections on a Non-Tech Conference

I've become immersed in the ed tech space over the past two years. I've attended a lot of conferences and learned a lot from people. I've even begun presenting on the things I've done in my classroom. I love these conferences. They inspire me and challenge me (and it's a lot of fun to meet up with all of my ed tech friends).

This week, I went a different kind of conferences: a writer's conference. These are generally people who love words in a deep way (and are therefore very suspicious of Twitter). I was surprised by how different a writing conference is from an ed tech conference. Although there were some commonalities, such as passion for subject matter, I think we can learn a few things from each other.

What techies can learn from bibliophiles: 

Love words. Words inspire and invigorate. However, to some extent, techies have lost a love of words. We focus more on the content itself then how we're going to communicate the content. We forget the power of the perfectly chosen word. The word we agonize over. The word we plan and prepare. Many of the writers I listened to had clearly wrestled over finding the best words to tell their stories. Techies could greatly profit from seeking to find this perfect word. 

Slow it down. On the one hand, this drives me crazy. Writers will often speak slowly and thoughtfully. Sometimes I just want to tell them to hurry it up and tell me their information. However, slowing it down allows the word to penetrate the soul. Writers use repetition and pacing to help show their listeners their important points. This helps me to actually take these phrases and apply them to my life. 

Tell stories. The best sessions were those in which I heard stories. Stories that authors had written. Stories of what had happened to people. These stories compel us and convince us. I need to remember to tell some stories once in a while in order to give a "so what" for why I do what I do. 

Be present. I was one of the few people on an electronic device and one of few people on Twitter. Most people just sat, listening to the speaker, pen and notebook in hand. Although I love Twitter and following along with people as they learn, there's something beautiful about just listening to the person in front of you. 

What bibliophiles can learn from techies:

Use visuals. Oh my lands. Only two out of the seventeen sessions had visual elements. When you're tired and jet legged and you've spent hours listening to people speak already, this is torture. Don't give us bullet points, but give me something to look at. Don't hate pictures because you love words. Use pictures with your words. Keep me awake. 

Have good wi-fi. Okay, this might be a low blow because in all fairness, very few people were on the internet, but it was so nice to be at a conference that had internet. I could actually keep up with what was going on at work while I was gone. 

Stick to your session description and plan it out. As a non-writer, it's often difficult to know which sessions to attend. Am I going to something on the craft of writing (something I don't care too much about)? Or am I going to something I can use in my Language Arts classroom? Make your session description what it actually is. And then, actually plan what you're going to say. Although many ed tech people plan at the last minute, they go with a plan. There were too many writers who showed up with nothing (or very little) written to share in their hour-long time slots. 

The smartest person in the room is the room. I've really appreciated how the ed tech conferences I've gone to have been about sharing your learning, either with the person next to you or in conversation. Published authors can often look like gods to budding writers, but the fact is, we all have something to share on reading and writing. Maybe I just wasn't in the right places, but it seemed like most of the conversation was focused on learning the craft from those who are published, not the people sitting next to you. And I don't know about you, but getting published seems like a bit of a crap-shoot. There are a lot of really bad books out there. 

I'll keep going to both kinds of conferences. I think the variety is good for me. I'm going to try to become a bit more balanced. Because the truth is, I'm a bibliophile and techie. And I believe these things can (and should) exist together.