Presenters and Participants: Keeping in Sync at the Mind Spa

Ruthie Iida

Presenters and Participants: Keeping in Sync at the Mind Spa
by Ruthie Iida.


As an EFL teacher, I listen to, guide, correct, challenge, question, encourage, and console young learners on a daily basis. My mission is to both provide rich input and help equip and inspire my students to produce their own output. With all that in and out-putting, how do I recharge my batteries after a particularly intense class? Well, I don’t. Like many other teachers, I plow through stolidly until the door closes behind the very last student of the day. Then I check the bathroom for stray students before allowing myself to flop down on a chair and let out the tension I’ve been holding in.  

And that is why I relish conferences. They provide mental refreshment and spiritual sustenance (as in, “Yippee! Like-minded people, and I don’t have to teach them! I can listen and learn, offer ideas, and collaborate! They will understand me! Sure, I’m nerdy, but they are, too!”). I think of an ELT conference as a spa for the mind: frustration drains out and inspiration soaks in. Accordingly, I always set off on the day of a conference with high expectations, anticipating an interesting speaker or an insight that could be the key to a problem I’m mulling over.  And I go with the intent of relaxing my guard and relinquishing my authority. I expect participants to behave themselves so that I can sit back and focus on taking incisive notes with my dazzling array of color pens;  I also expect presenters to be sensitive to their audience as well as properly prepared. When both participants and presenters are in sync, the room buzzes with positive energy and real learning takes place.  

By “in sync”, I  mean working together to create a dynamic atmosphere. Since many conference participants have also been presenters and all presenters have most probably been participants, they should have a mutual understanding that facilitates their interaction. When the presenter and his or her audience engage with each other, there’s a sense of forward momentum that ensures boredom will not set in.  On the other hand, when one or both sides fails to notice and respond to the other, a presentation remains static. Assuming that a dynamic presentation is the ideal, here are two things to keep in mind.   

Participants: Rivet your attention! 

It’s hard to be standing in front of a room full of people. Audience participants can make things easier for the speaker in many ways; for instance, if the room isn’t full, move to the front. There’s nothing more demotivating than speaking to a handful of people who are far removed from the podium. Close proximity between speaker and listeners creates an intimacy that makes it more difficult for either side to disengage. If the room is full, behave as if it isn’t. In other words, don’t assume that checking your mail or texting  a friend will go unnoticed in the crowd. Give the speaker your full attention. Good speakers are constantly scanning the room; they draw energy directly from their listeners, so make eye contact and respond naturally to what’s being said. The more participants backchannel  by responding visibly or audibly, the more encouraged and enthusiastic speakers naturally become.  

Presenters: Take your cue from the audience!  

You know that feeling of trying to stifle a yawn that really wants to break loose? At a seminar two years ago, I was trying in vain to stay attentive after sitting for a full hour. The effort must have shown on my face, because the lecturer suddenly stopped short and said, “I think we all need a little break. Let’s stand up and move around – you all have been great listeners today and I really appreciate it.”  What a sweetheart: rather than pushing through till the end of his lecture, he took his cue directly from the faces of the participants. We all stood up and after a good stretch and a drink of water, our wilted backbones perked up straight again. This lecturer knew his material well enough to be able to focus on his listeners as well as his notes. When it’s our turn to be speakers, we too need to be well-prepared and flexible enough to spontaneously adapt to situations that might arise. We may have a specific body of knowledge that we’re determined to convey, but determination alone won’t make that possible.  

The bottom line is mutual awareness and mutual respect. Participants are responsible for respecting presenters not only because they are “experts” but because they are human beings who have invested time and effort to share their knowledge. Likewise, many participants are also experts in their field and have invested time and effort to get to the conference venue for the day in the interest of professional advancement and collaboration with fellow teachers and scholars. Both presenters and participants often have children they could have been playing with or tests that still need to be graded. In other words, everyone deserves to be treated well and everyone benefits from working together to make a conference successful. Stay in sync and enjoy your day at the mind spa that a conference can be! 

ELT Conferences: Highs and Lows

Pravita Indriati

ELT Conferences: Highs and Lows
by Pravita Indriati.


Conferences. It is one of those words commonly used in ELT that sound formal and professional yet fancy to me (like CELTA, DELTA, Master’s, and PhD). It is formal and professional in how much it is worth for our professional development, but fancy since we need to have enough money to afford the registration fees and travel expenses. Unless, of course, we are lucky and the company or school where we teach offers the opportunity to attend it for free. 

I attended my first conference back in the year 2013, when I first joined iTDi community and was invited to do a group presentation. I was still “green” in the world of professional development at that time and did not have any experience in attending conferences, not to mention presenting. But deep in my heart I was convinced that this would be a great step for me and would be good for my future. For my debut, I went through worries and stage-fright. I was worried about my presentation, worried that the audience would be more experienced than me, worried about the questions and public opinion. But then it went well, people in the audience were engaged and interested in the topic. It was quite an adrenaline and emotional rush, I must say! Ever since, I became addicted to learning with and from other teachers, presenting and networking at conferences, and part of the reason could be that I enjoy the rush and that feeling of accomplishment in the end. 

After that first presentation, I have been participating and presenting at several conferences, both online and offline: RSCON, TEFLIN, JALT, and GESS Indonesia. Some proved to be the greatest experience, with lots of fantastic, long-lasting impressions, not to mention worth the travel. Others ended up disappointing due to the disorganization and were not worth the money spent on them. 

After some of those experiences, I feel that conferences find their ways to make more money. With the word “international” in the title, an event immediately sounds more appealing and attracts more attendees. Holding the conference in a beautiful location makes for yet another good selling point. I went to one international conference in Indonesia that took place in a wonderful tourist destination. The scenic location worked as a perfect bonus to why people went there, and I was one of them.  In addition, they worked in partnership with a luxurious 5-star hotel as their venue so that the participants could take the expensive hotel-conference package, which cost an arm and a leg for  Indonesians who presented in their own country. However, the conference turned out to be not as good as it promised to be. There were many short presentations that were not inspiring at all as some of the presenters were simply chasing for the conference certificates as a part of their employment requirements. The fact that I did not learn much left me feeling disappointed. On top of that, the way the organizers worked with the presentations and rooms was completely messed up. If it were not for the networking (and travel), I would think twice about coming there. 

For me, a regular teacher who does not have a teaching degree, joining conferences really opens doors and creates opportunities for networking and future career. Some colleagues might say I am being an attention seeker by choosing to attend conferences. Well, if you work for your career and love professional development, going to a conference is a great way for you to learn. I love learning and going to conferences helps me to expand my knowledge and professional network, especially with some ELT experts who are really open to giving other teachers help and support. I am not a conference certificate hunter, I join conferences as I find it beneficial for me. I have the thirst for knowledge and learning and I will go an extra mile for this. I have never been one of those lucky employees who get financial support from the company, nor am I paid well enough to afford this. In fact, I save up. 

So, if you like learning, sharing ideas and networking, attending conferences will be a good opportunity for you. You might find that some conferences are better than others, but ultimately it will be worth your time. If you are a language school teacher like me, presenting for the first time might be challenging, but trust me, it is worth it, too. You won’t know what you can get unless you try. And here, I would also like to give a big shout-out to iTDi for continuously supporting and encouraging me to develop professionally!  

Conference Presenter: Yes, Maybe, or Never?

Patrice Palmer profile picture

Conference Presenter: Yes, Maybe, or Never?
by Patrice Palmer.


When I sat on my local TESL Board of Directors, we spent months planning our annual spring conference. Most years, the call for proposals yielded a very low rate of return. In fact, most years board members had to personally reach out to teachers to encourage or even persuade them to present. In this post I would like to explore the reasons why that happens.  

My good teacher friend Joan Bartel and I share the view that presenting at conferences is not only fun but also quite addictive. So far, I have presented at least 30 times in the last 20 years both locally and internationally. We often see each other at conferences including last year’s TESOL Convention in Seattle. Over the dinner one evening, we shared how our presentations went and talked about the thrill of presenting at an international conference. However, obviously many teachers do not share our excitement.  

Was I always such a conference-keener? Of course not! I can clearly remember my first conference presentation. I was working in a Teaching and Learning Centre in Hong Kong and I was told (not asked) that I would be presenting at a conference for local language teachers. My topic was how to teach English using a new virtual 360° panoramic website, which was brand-new technology back in 2005. Not only was I nervous about actually speaking to a large group, but also worried about demonstrating the technology itself operating live. While I waited patiently to be called to the podium, my mouth got dry and I was sweating! I remember the papers shaking in my hands… And before I knew it, my 30-minute presentation was over and I was sitting in audience with the conference participants. Even though I was terrified and anxious, I am very glad that I was forced to present. Without this prompting, I am not sure that I would have had the confidence to submit a conference proposal on my own. The best thing about that first presentation is that every time after that, it just got a bit easier because I knew I could do it.   

Do I still get presenter jitters? YES! As an example, moments before my TESOL Convention presentation in 2016, I was still reviewing my Power Point slides right up to my curtain call, but it was all worth the butterflies in the end. I knew that I had a good grasp of the content, but I just wanted it to go well.   

I certainly understand one’s apprehension in presenting, but the low rate of presenter proposal submissions for last year’s local TESL conference still perplexed me. I wanted to find out the reasons behind it so I designed a simple 2-question survey and sent it to my blog followers.  

My first question was, “If you haven’t presented at a conference, is this something that you would like to do in the future?”  Surprisingly, more than 46% of teachers responded with a YES. Approximately the same number replied “Maybe”, and only 8% said “Never”, which is much lower than I expected. 

My second question was, “If you are not interested in presenting at conferences, what is the number one reason?” Only 10% of the teachers said that they are too busy, which is understandable given our profession. Unfortunately, 20% of the respondents stated that they are too afraid to present in front of colleagues. Again, this is understandable since glossophobia (or the fear of public speaking) is the number one fear for many people. About 35% of teachers said that they are not interested because they would not receive any money (it is expensive to attend conferences). What was most surprising to me is that the same number of teachers said that they do not feel like they have the skills or expertise to present at a conference. Personally, I believe that all teachers have the skills (many of us teach presentation skills to our students) and we certainly have expertise from our own classroom experiences that could be shared to help other teachers.   

For this year’s TESL Ontario Conference in Canada, I invited a former colleague to co-present. Drew had always wanted to present but said that he didn’t have the confidence to do it alone. The day after our presentation, I received an email from him: “That was fun. Thanks for asking me. It was a great experience”.  

If you are an experienced conference presenter, think about inviting a newbie to co-present with you. I would also recommend that you start with a small, local conference first. Panel presentations are also a good way to get started and for you to gain experience and confidence.   

What else do you think we could do together as a teacher community to help other teachers feel more confident and believe that they have something worthwhile to share at TESOL conferences? If you are an ESL/EFL teacher who has never presented at a conference, please write in the comments below why you made this choice. If you know of any resources to help teachers feel more confident about presenting, please share. If you are a blogger, think about writing a post to encourage teachers to put themselves out there on the conference stage. Then, together we can see how teachers could be supported in this exciting professional development opportunity. 

ELT Conferences: Organiser’s Perspective

Henrick Oprea

ELT Conferences: Organiser’s Perspective
by Henrick Oprea.


I’ve been in ELT since 1997 and my very first conference as an attendee was in 2000. There was no millennial bug that year, but the conference bug certainly bit me. From a conference goer, I became a conference presenter and before I knew it I was volunteering to help in the conference. I had the chance to be an MC and work with the minders; I’ve been a proposal reader and a member of the academic committee. And now, in my current position as the president of BRAZ-TESOL, I’m actually in charge of organising our 16th BRAZ-TESOL International Conference (16th BTIC), to which all of you are invited, by the way. As my roles changed, so did my perspective of ELT conferences.

As a conference goer, you’re concerned about the value you’ll get for the money you spent. “Will I see good sessions? Will there be enough networking opportunities?” are some of the questions I had in mind. As a conference organiser, I can tell you that the concerns are even bigger. The question now is not whether it’ll be good value for the money I’ve spent, but whether it’ll be good value for money other people invest – and this makes a huge difference in terms of responsibility. Thankfully, ELT is a world filled with generous people who are willing to offer their expertise and support to help you in such a humongous endeavour. The only possibility of one being able to organise such massive events is counting on, and really depending on, the help of volunteers.

As a conference organiser, you soon realise that even though the academic part of the conference is important, there are many other aspects that need to be dealt with if you want the conference to actually happen in the first place. I’m talking about the choice of the venue, for instance. Can we find something to hold the number of participants we have in mind? How expensive is it for people to pay for accommodation and food? Is it easy to get to the venue?

As far as the academic part goes, the questions are also abundant. Do we have the right speakers? Is there a good balance in the presentations? Can we offer support for first-time presenters? Do we actually want first-time presenters (and, to my mind, the answer to this question should always be YES)? Have we ensured that the gender-balance of plenary speakers has been taken into account? Regardless of gender, did we manage to get outstanding speakers for the money we had? How do we deal with the “recommendations” of sponsors when they suggest (push) a name you didn’t really want in the first place? How financially-sound is the association to fight such battles?

But there’s more! You have to think about the financial part of the conference as well. How will it pay for itself? Can we make it any cheaper for participants? How? How can we save money? What if we tried to be more sustainable and ditch paper? Will the Wi-Fi be powerful enough to hold all connections then? Should we try new technology to help participants or will that just make things more confusing? Are we willing to play it safe and do the same old things that have been done, or are we OK with being open to new problems in order to try to provide a different experience to attendees? If so, how much further will we get?

I guess the main issue for a conference organiser is that you suddenly realise you’ll be organising a conference you’re very unlikely to attend yourself as you’re constantly handling problems in the backstage so that the participants’ experience is as smooth as possible. In a conference with more than 1,000 people, it is very likely that some will be displeased with something. However, that’s what we do.

As we walk into a classroom in our teacher role, we are putting our planning to the test. This is pretty much what we do as conference organisers. We plan, we prepare, we talk to people, we invite A LOT of people to help you out. You are very grateful for the support you get and wonder how you’d manage if it were not for all the good will of people to make things happen. You relearn the value of trust and the number of people willing to work to make something happen just because they want to donate their time and work for a cause. Yes, our conferences are not-for profit and run by volunteers, so it’s amazing to witness what can be accomplished when people work together. It’s the magic of organising an ELT conference – the magic of bringing people together, of worrying about others’ well-being and investment. It’s being open to all sorts of criticism and hearing that things will never work, and yet believing that it will because a group of fantastic professionals have decided to come together to make it happen.

Next time you attend a conference, pay attention to the little details and be thankful to all those who have put it together. You never know the workload until you try to do it yourself!

Punk, DIY, and the Art of ELT Conferencing

Timothy Hanson

Punk, DIY, and the Art of ELT Conferencing
by Timothy Hampson.


When people think of punk, they think of mohawks, boots and safety pin piercings, but they often forget punk’s DIY ethos. Punks were making their own clothes, making their own album art, and self-publishing records. This gave them a huge amount of control over their own output and independence from a society they felt was overly consumerist. While I don’t know any English language teachers with safety pins through their ears, there is definitely is a very strong punk DIY ethic in the ELT community. In this article I’ll draw from my experiences of founding and organising an ELT conference to give three lessons for anyone interested in DIY ELT.  

My own experience being part of the excitELT conference team was definitely DIY. The conference started from a frustration with “traditional” conferences which were often overpriced, overly academic, and overly cliquey. We wanted to change the way conferences happen and, like the punks, we weren’t afraid of a bit of DIY to make that happen. With a small team (varied in size between two and four), we’ve all had to learn new skills to make things happen. Over the last two years I’ve taught myself web and logo design, typesetting, advertising, scheduling, management, and many other skills. 

The first thing I’ve learned from excitELT is that you can make small changes that have a big effect and that it’s okay to think small. For example, if your dream is to start your own academy, that doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, get a mortgage on a nice piece of property and hire a full teaching, HR and advertising staff. Instead, it might be a better idea to start taking on private classes, building word of mouth and slowly reducing the amount you work for your primary job. Similarly, if you want to change a curriculum, you can, but improving the worst 2-3 classes of a curriculum is a good way of making some positive change without committing to a complete rewrite. 

The original plans for the conference were small; although we had 80 attendees for the first conference, we had originally never imagined having more than 30. The changes we made to the “traditional” conference format were also not huge but ended up being very effective. Switching out hour-long lectures for short plenary speeches and hands-on workshops didn’t take any more effort for the organisers but it changed the whole tone of the conference. Forcing speakers to trim their speeches to ten minutes forced all of the plenaries to be “all killer no thriller.” When selecting workshops, we deliberately picked the ones that were hands-on. As a result, the main feedback from the conference was that the whole day was engaging!  

We really wanted the conference to be a more audience-focused and social experience. Simple things like ditching conference booklets in favour of large schedule posters created congregation points for people to ask, “What are you going to see next?” and build new friendships. For the second conference, we introduced the “hangout” as a session type based around conversation on an issue, drawing the focus away from the presenter and allowing teachers to meet one another. Making sure that someone from the organising committee was on the registration desk at all times meant everyone at the conference met at least one of us during the day. The day before the conference there was a social gathering in the park to hang out for the afternoon, and I met lots of teachers that day that I’m still in touch with now.  

The second lesson is that you should ask for help. If you do want to change something about ELT, it’s likely that other people feel the same way as you do. In my experience, people in ELT are extremely willing to help one another and are very responsive to twitter messages and emails. You might be surprised by how much traction your ideas get. People might be willing to give advice, or they might be willing to help out in a bigger way. 

The more I spoke to people, the more people wanted to help out. Wonderful people volunteered to help with the organization and offered their expert advice on everything from general goals to graphic design. Incredibly prestigious speakers like Scott Thornbury and Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto volunteered their time and gave inspiring presentations. The amount of time and effort that people were willing to contribute astounds me and I think shows how giving the ELT community is. 

The last lesson I’ve learned is that you don’t need to be an expert to get things started. Often the willingness to make a change is more important than ability. One of the beautiful things about DIY is that you learn as you go along. You might find yourself learning all kinds of skills you never knew you were interested in and these skills might find their way back into your classroom practice. For example, after using blogs for conference advertising I’ve used blogging as a task in class. 

One of my mentors jokes that I’m a person who “went to an ELT conference and decided he could do that too” (which is deeply unfair: I’d been to two ELT conferences). No one on the excitELT team had a background in organising conferences, but all cared deeply about the conference and were willing to learn the skills that they needed to make the conference happen. If we can do it ourselves, you can definitely do it yourself, too. If you do, remember that your that your first steps might be small; that if you’re identifying a real problem, people will be willing to help out; and that you don’t need to be an expert to make things happen.