The Conference Game by June O’Sullivan

31st August 2016

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June O'Sullivan

We are delighted to welcome June O’Sullivan, an inspiring speaker and regular commentator on the Early Years, as a guest author to Childcare Expo. June’s continuous dedication and passion for children’s wellbeing, especially providing equal access to the same high quality opportunities for learning, makes June an outstanding ambassador for the sector and one we love to hear from time and time again. Here is her first blog, ‘The Conference Game’ –

When finances are tight and there is no margin; training and development are first in the line of fire.  We start by slicing the training up into qualifications, compliance, research, new development and conferences and then decide what we don’t need.  Usually, the first to go is the conference, often considered an expensive indulgence. Of course, the truth is that some conferences can be a waste of time because the programme promises some great opportunities but the reality is that the speakers are dull, delivering a cliché ridden speech on PowerPoint which they then read it aloud using an uninspiring and lackluster delivery.  Then to top it all the loos are scarce, the lunch is curled sandwiches and the networking is poor.  Admit it we have all been there or attended a conference to hear from a Government Minister who doesn’t turn up and is replaced by an ill -prepared nervous policy wonk!

But don’t let that put you off, a good conference does many things and the best conferences are one which leave you feeling challenged and exhilarated.   Some of the best conferences I attended left me feeling that mixture of delight and bemusement that is evoked as you successfully land having paraglided over the sea because flying on a piece of elastic over the sea seemed like a great idea on holiday in Cyprus!

If you want to get the best from a conference, then attend with enthusiasm and an open mind. Invest some time in the preparation. Be clear about why you are going, read the programme properly, look at who is speaking and check out their credibility.  Do you want to hear from people who have travelled their own path successfully or is this an opportunity for you to present an idea?  Be thoughtful andchoosy about which sessions you commit to by checking the programme and picking the ones you think are the best fits. If they don’t measure up, don’t feel bad about leaving a session if it’s not meeting your needs. You paid to be there and need to make the most of it. The worst thing you can do is stay put, zone out and start surfing the web or online shopping.  Decide how you intend to share what you learn, whether through social media or through a staff meeting. Attending a conference is as much about sharing with your colleagues as you enjoying the lunch. Finally, if possible look at who is going to attend, the networking is often the most profitable element of the conference. Gosh, you say what a faff, but as Goethe said accepting good advice is but to increase one’s own ability.

So my advice is to:

  • Respect your time – you will never get it back.
  • Go to workshops that will challenge you
  • If possible offer to present a workshop; To learn is to teach: to teach is to learn twice over
  • Go on your own it will force you to take more chances
  • Network – look for opportunities, radiate enthusiasm and be nice. Don’t look over other people’s shoulder to talk to the more important person. That person you ignore could be your next boss.
  • Learning has to be continuous because the more you know the less you know.

So don’t see a conference as either an extravagance or a nice to have. Consider how you can use it to connect and collaborate to build a bigger voice which ensures that policies and practice are effectively interwoven to support children and families.

To hear more from June, you can visit her blog here. Keep your eyes peeled for June’s next installment.

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