Hosting and Running A Conference – A Reflection


This was the first-year for the Lake Michigan Tech Conference.

I had the opportunity to work with a dedicated team of professionals to bring an educational technology conference to our local corner of Michigan. This first-year event was planned in the beginning of March, leaving us just four and a half months to bring it all together. It was an experience was something that had a little good, a little bad, and even some ugly. This post is meant to serve as a reflection of my learning through the course of planning and hosting this conference.

The Good
Steve Dembo at the Lake Michigan Tech Conference 2017
Steve Dembo (@teach42) kicking off the first ever Lake Michigan Tech Conference!

First, we had a wide array of speakers from across the state of Michigan. Educators from all over the state of Michigan came and supported this conference and the efforts of bringing EdTech professional learning to Southwest Michigan. All of our speakers were absolutely incredible. I have heard nothing but positive things from the attendees about our speakers. For instance, Steve Dembo kicked us off on Monday morning. Sitting and having an opportunity to learn with Steve Dembo is enough Monday motivation to carry you through any work week.  The amazingness of our speakers continued to trickle down throughout the event, with so many positive comments about the speakers that we had and what they were sharing. These educators were willing to share their knowledge and work through problems with teachers in our area.

Speaking of teachers in our area, the response to a local educational technology conference was overwhelming! We had over 200 attendees each day! This commitment from our area educators is a sign that many Michigan educators are working hard to ensure that they are preparing their students for the upcoming job markets and looking for new and creative ways to approach their curriculum. It is essential that we as educators continue to look for ways to grow and ensure that we are prepared to offer interesting, engaging, and relevant challenges to our students to help prepare them for the “real world.”

Ben Rimes at LMTC17.
Ben Rimes (@techsavvyed) closing out the first ever LMTC talking about balance and highlighting the TPACK model.

We also had few wifi complaints! The technology worked almost flawlessly for two days! We even had some presenters removing in from other parts of the country to be here. Our building wifi supported over two hundred educators on multiple devices and allowed for video conferencing! It was excellent to see as I have been to many conferences when the WiFi goes down, a projector goes out, or something else goes wrong. While it’s great practice to have a backup plan in the classroom, when sharing the latest and greatest tech tools, strategies, and tips with teachers, it is less than opportune timing.

The Bad

While nothing went to bad, there are definitely some things that could not have been better. For starters, some of the communication leading up to the event could have been more timely. Through some organizational issues, I did not have an opportunity to have a final participants list to communicate. I did not have access to provide more timely communication for the event. This was due to things within my control and outside of my control.

There was also some miscommunication regarding some of the presenters that we had presenting. On Monday morning, I had quite a few cancellations. This forced a small group of organizers to rework the second-day schedule of the conference, causing quite a bit of extra work. The flexibility that was shown by the organizers and the participants, plus the understanding was amazing. I just wish that we were able to deliver on what we thought we would have had.

One of the sessions each day was a collaboration zone in which we asked for facilitators to hold conversations with teachers that taught the same grade levels. The goal was to build connections with other educators in Michigan and have someone to ask for help when encountering issues. The review from the conference data is somewhat mixed on the value and use of the time in our Collaboration Zones. The good news is that many of the teachers that attended have offered some feedback with the suggestion on how to improve that for the following years of the conference. As we sit and plan, it will be important to take and use our reflections for planning a better experience for all.

The Ugly

July has been a really weird month for me and my family. This forced me to take some time off for vacation and lack of daycare meant that I was out of the office and not devoting the time needed to the conference. Growing up in metro Detroit I was used to the time off in July as many of the peers would have vacation and time off at the same time due to the GM two week shutdown. While my family did not work in the auto industry,  this time for vacation is important in the state of Michigan. As I currently reside in a tourist town, I under that the value of tourism on our state economy and will continue to do my part. Our state even recognizes the values, as they have a law on the books to start school after Labor Day to allow families one last hurrah to the north before school and reality come back to the families. I would work while I could from home, and did a lot, but there is something to be said about uninterrupted work in the office to focus on tasks and accomplish goals.

Realistically, this was only seen by a few and felt by an even smaller group. Monday before the kickoff of the concurrence, I was running around like a madman, handing signs and printing forms that I could have done earlier. This is where the idea of work-life balance comes into play for me. I needed the time away from work with my family. I wouldn’t trade the week with my daughter one-on-one for anything. In planning for the conference next year, I want to make sure that I am further along before the time off.

The Lake Michigan Tech Conference 2018 is tentatively planned. Dates forthcoming!

As we approach the data breakdown and planning of next year’s conference, it is the utmost important event we take what worked and improve it, we take what needed some help and help it, and we take what wasn’t working and set it up to work in the future. As a first-time conference planner and host, I feel that this year’s conference went far better than I thought it would and I look forward to working on next year’s conference as well. It is looking promising that we will have one again as I have been forwarded the logo for 2018!

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