Getting the most from conferences, plus updates on blog and events

cropped-website-header-2013-12The program for the Virginia Biofarming Conference just arrived in the mail, and I’m happily highlighting workshops I want to go to.

Meanwhile I’ve been feeling wistful that I’m not going to the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference this year. It’s January 15-18 at Mobile, Alabama. I hope it will be closer to home next year!facebook cover 2014 highres

This winter, for the first time, I’m going to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Farming for the Future February 5-82014-ART-SLIDE

“““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`As I’m starting to think about attending conferences (as opposed to thinking about presentations I’ve agreed to make), I’m reminding myself of ways of getting the most out of time at a conference. I thought I’d pass some tips along.

Before the conference

  • If you’re short of money, look for scholarships or work-exchange opportunities at the conference you want to go to. But start early, as there will be limited offers.
  • Beforehand, be sure of the dates and times. Sometimes there are pre-conference events, either included with the price of registration, or for an extra fee. If I’m going, I want to take advantage of all the opportunities I can!
  • Book accommodation in good time to get the best deals. Some conferences match up attendees with local members with spare rooms or even floor space, or set up a way for attendees to share hotel rooms with compatible others. There’s Couchsurfing and Airbnb, if you can’t afford a hotel. Cheaper accommodation could mean you can stay an extra day and not miss anything.
  • If you are in a hotel, find out what’s included with the price of the room. Breakfast? Microwave? Mini-fridge? Kettle? You could do some self-catering and save money that way. Find out which meals are included with registration. Or are there “Heavy snacks” receptions – just as filling as a meal!
  • Contact others to car-pool. This could be friends or simply other attendees from your area (Future Friends!)
  • Having taken care of your physical needs, turn your attention to the workshop program. Highlight the ones you really want to go to. Use a different highlighter to mark your second choices (just sometimes you’ll discover your first choice isn’t such a good match as you expected. It’s OK to jump ship!)
  • Some speakers repeat a workshop in two different time-slots. This is a big help when you are finding it hard to choose between two concurrent workshops.
  • Talk to friends who are also going. Perhaps they’ll go to different workshops and you can photocopy their notes or handouts later.

At the conference

  • Make a “pocket list” with your list of activities for each day, including times and room numbers or names. Include your second choices, to make jumping ship speedy if you need to do that. Include any non-workshop events, such as if you make a date to meet someone to talk over a meal. It’s so much quicker to refer to a little note in your pocket than to drag out the whole program and page through it.
  • Keep the conference map handy, perhaps folded in your pocket, or clipped to your notebook.
  • Bring a comfortable-to-use notebook and more than one pen. Maybe a camera to snap screenshots at presentations. Some people bring laptops or tablets, some bring audio-recording devices. All ways to help you remember key points of the presentation. Studies show that the actual writing-down of things helps you remember them – it’s not a matter of reading the notes later (although if your notes are legible, you are more likely to read them later).
  • Get to the room in good time to collect any handouts and flip through to see what’s there. This will save frantic unnecessary scribbling if the chart you want is already in the handout. Sit where you can see and hear. I’ve discovered in recent years that having progressive lenses means I need to sit in the center rather than off to one side.
  • Use the margins of the handout or your notes to flag particular items to follow-up later.
  • Ask questions immediately if you don’t understand clearly. Save your questions that broaden the discussion until the speaker has finished their presentation. They should have allowed time for that, and waiting till the end avoids creating a diversion.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach the speaker after the presentation. We speakers are just human beings. We  want our presentations to be understood. We need to know if we worded something in a confusing way. We will benefit from knowing which aspects of our topic you want to know more about.
  • Be sure to fill out the conference evaluation form, and don’t be constrained by the questions that are asked! Add suggestions for future speakers or future topics. Be as specific as possible with your feedback, so it is useful to the presenters. Include suggestions to improve the visibility, audibility, memorability of each presentation. Include praise and appreciation, not just what you didn’t like!!

After the conference

  • If friends went to different workshops, talk over your respective workshops. This will have the advantage of firming up your memory on the ones you went to, as well as informing you about the ones you missed.
  • Make a collected list of all the items you want to follow up on, from all the workshops, and from the hallway conversations you had. Choose several each week to investigate. Don’t just keep the list in a safe place!
  • Check back at the conference website a week after the event. Sometimes there will be handouts or slideshows posted there.
  • Next winter, as you plan your crops, incorporate some of the best ideas you picked up, at least on a small scale.
  • Write down next year’s conference dates, so you don’t double book yourself!

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Pam-blog1 jpgMy first blog post has now been posted on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog. You can read it here. It’s about reading and understanding the small print in seed catalogs. I wrote about it more fully here back in October. I plan to post there about once a month.

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MENFairLogoOn the upcoming events front, I have now received confirmation from New Society Publishers and Mother Earth News that I will be a speaker at the Asheville, NC, MEN Fair, April 12-13 2014. I’ve offered several workshops – we’ll see which one they choose. I’m also working on a Saturday February 15 workshop with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace at Lynchburg College, in SW Virginia. It will be from 10am to 3pm with a break for lunch. All three of us Virginia gardening authors will be selling our books there. When we’ve firmed up the topics I’ll let you know.