7 things about reflecting on conference presentations

Spring to me doesn't mean flowers in bloom, it means conferencing.

Spring to me doesn’t mean flowers in bloom, it means conferencing. I’ve been thinking about whether I could generalise the way I watch conference presentations to then come up with a list of things I think are good to keep in mind, which can maybe be also insightful to other people.

Here are 7 things I’ve found:

  1. Silently ask the presenter ‘so what?’ – this is not to dispute their ideas, it is for you to keep an ongoing reflection on the material in relation to your own practice; hence ‘silently’.
  2. Suspend disbelief (for a moment) – For example, I’m usually fairly critical (and skeptical) of educational technology, but I always try to keep an open mind when I sit at a talk in this area. And even though I hardly ever use the things I see, I have seen some amazing talks which, if anything, have kept me abreast of the latest developments in the profession.
  3. Formulate questions (and ask them if there is time) – thinking about questions you could ask the presenter or yourself if you were presenting the same material can give you an extra, deeper layer of reflection. When I leave a presentation with more questions than when I first got there, it usually means I was cognitively engaged in it. And even ‘bad’ presentations can give you valuable insights.
  4. Review the purpose of taking notes – unfortunately our schooling mostly teaches us that note taking is copying down some important points the teacher (in this case, the speaker) makes. But we are not taught so much to write down our own comments in the light of what is being presented. For me, that is when I feel I’m mostly learning from the presentation. Most teachers I know do not go back to review their conference notes, but many say that taking notes help them make sense of the presentation as they watch it.
  5. Observe not only what is said, but how it is said – I’ve learned a lot from paying attention to good and bad presenters in terms of body language, slides design, narrative and rhetoric strategies (and lack of), pace and flow.
  6. Avoid the ad hominem logical fallacy – that is, considering the validity of the material against the person rather than their arguments. Even in cases where bias is explicit it is important to be aware that a person’s disposition to a certain argument (which you don’t agree with) does not as a consequence make the argument false. There are a couple of big names in ELT whose rhetoric I found terrible, but it turns out that they are very often thought-provoking speakers.
  7. Also avoid the appeal to authority fallacy – that is when a speaker supports their argument based on their qualifications and status, or by citing authoritative (or pseudo authoritative) sources; while these might increase the face validity of the material, it doesn’t automatically make it true.

Overall, when I’m watching a conference presentation I like to frame my ongoing reflection in terms of transferability and relatability to my own teaching (past, present and future!).

You may also like this post I wrote on my main blog: Conference bug: pair-work http://authenticteaching.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/conference-bug-pairwork/

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