In just a few days, the largest EdTech conference in the country (or is it the world?) will be taking place.  I’m not sure exactly how many I’ve been to, but I think I’m approaching my 10th ISTE.  While I know there are many that can say that they’ve got double my experience, I believe I have enough notches on my belt to make a few suggestions.  Where in the past I might have been prone to recommend things to do for newbies, I think I’d like to go a different route here.

I hate to admit this, but I’ve seen some people really make some awful decisions at ISTE.  Between mob mentality, one ups-manship, and conference over-saturation, I’ve seen some really despicable stuff happen.  This is an absolutely fantastic event, with thousands of passionate educators attending.  Here’s some suggestions for not making a mess of it.

1) Don’t be a XXXXXXXX.  There’s a few select words that I’ve chosen not to use on this blog that I think you can use to complete that sentence.  I’m all for criticism.  I think it makes people stronger and I’ve often disparaged the fact that so many people are ‘too nice.’  But that said, there’s a difference between civil discourse and just being a XXXXXXXX.  It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there and speak at ISTE.  I’ve only seen a few people really blow off the privilege, most pour their heart and soul into it.  If you disagree, that’s fine, but there’s a line between criticizing someone and delving back into middle school bullying tactics.  Be a critic, be a strong critic, but at least be respectful.

2) Don’t grow roots. One of my favorite places is the Bloggers Cafe.  And there’s a definite appeal of just hanging out there and waiting for people to show up that you already know, or are going to meet for the first time.  However, there’s SO many good presentations, workshops, poster sessions and activities going on.  Schedule your Bloggers Cafe time like you would a session.  Set an alarm if you need to.  Spend time hanging out, but if you aren’t careful you could find yourself planted in one spot for the entire day.  Breakfast, lunch, happy hour, dinner, and the evenings/parties are great times to get your socialization time in.  Believe me, I won’t be avoiding the Bloggers Cafe.  But neither will I be moving in.

3) Don’t confine yourself to sessions from your friends and favorites. Have I mentioned how many great sessions there are?  It’s easy to just go to ‘safe’ sessions, presenters that you KNOW are great and that confirm your ideas/beliefs.  However, if you don’t take a few chances, you may miss out on some fantastic material.  Let’s face it, some of the best content in the world is presented by mediocre presenters.  Man up and get over it.  Just because someone doesn’t sing and dance doesn’t mean their content isn’t solid.  Pick a topic that you’re interested in and attend sessions on it regardless of whether you’ve heard of the presenter.  And if you don’t like their presentation style, try to see what you can learn IN SPITE of that.  Consider it a challenge, a hill to climb, the outer shell you need to work through to get to the fruit inside. If you want to be entertained, go to the Improv.  You’re at ISTE to learn.

4) Don’t be an end node. Most likely you have a blog, a FLIP cam, a Twitter account, a digital camera, Facebook, an iPad, a netbook, a Palm Pilot and a telegraph in your bag.  If you aren’t sharing at least a few things each day, then you’re doing the education community a major disservice.  I don’t care how many sessions you’re presenting, take the time to at least share a few highlights or thoughts from the day.  Even better, give a full report, share some notes, create a backchannel for a session and so on.  But if you can’t, no worries.  Do what you can.  Whatever you do, don’t just be a sponge that doesn’t give anything back.  Pay it forward for the people that can’t be there.

5) Don’t go to everything.  You can’t.  There’s just too much going on and only a few nights to do it all in.  Make some decisions, move forward and no regrets.  I don’t care which party/reception you go to, or none at all.  Whatever you do, make the most of it.  The reality is, there will be friends and favorites at EVERY event.  Don’t lament the people that aren’t there, enjoy the time with the people that ARE there.  On Tuesday night, there’s a Simple K12 reception, a TechSmith reception, an Edmodo Meetup and EdTech Karoake….  and they are all going on at basically the same time.  So which do you go to?  It doesn’t matter.  You’ll have a great time regardless.  Make your choice and don’t second guess.

6) Don’t be shy. It’s your first ISTE.  You look across the hallway and see the woman who keynoted your state conference last year.  You’ve read her blog for 5 years, follow her on Twitter, and have bought multiple copies of her book (to pass on to friends).  What do you do????  You walk up to her and say, “Hi, I’m Steve and I’m a fan.”  Let the conversation commence.  The reality is we’re all educators.  We’re passionate about what we do and love talking to other people who are just as passionate.  I have yet to meet anybody at a conference that was ‘too big to chat.’  They might be in a hurry or trying to find their next room, so obviously be respectful if they do have to leave, but you don’t need to stress out about whether a presenter is approachable.  They are.  Trust me on this one.

7) Don’t let the time slip away. I’m shy.  Seriously, I am.  My natural inclination is to eat by myself, to sneak off to my room and enjoy quiet time and such.  And at ISTE, my inclination is WRONG.  You only have a few days with these people.  This is the time to ask a ‘twitter-friend’ if they want to grab lunch together.  To schedule a drink with that buddy you only see once per year.  Don’t squander your time, as it will be gone way too quickly.  Breakfast and lunch are fantastic times to make connections.  Don’t have any friends at your hotel?  Pick a coffee shop near the conference center.  Announce on Twitter and Facebook that you’ll be grabbing breakfast in half an hour and encourage them to meet up.  You’ll be surprised by how many people will take you up on it.  As I said, I’m shy.  But this is one of those times to break through that and make the most of each moment.

8 ) Don’t be an ostrich. You’re at a conference.  You’re with tens of thousands of other educators.  Many of them will be in the room with you, at the table with you, or in a chair next to you.  Put. The. Phone. Away.  Believe me, I understand about checking in and the need to do it periodically.  But for the most part, put the phone IN your pocket/purse and focus on the people in front of you.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a dinner where 3/4 of the people are there physically, but their heads are stuck in the ground, frantically checking Twitter to see what they’re ‘missing’.  Whatever you’re missing, will still be there when you leave.  Face to face time is rare.  Don’t squander it by burying your face in the screen.

9) Don’t ignore the vendors.  While many can argue over whether there’s anything good on the floor, or whether it’s all just the same old stuff… the fact is that vendor floor pays for most of the conference.  And if the vendors don’t feel like they’re getting a return on the investment, they won’t be there, and the conference will suffer for it.  The fact is, there’s A LOT of great stuff going on down there.  From mini-workshops and presentations, to demonstrations of new technologies, there’s plenty of reasons to walk the floor.  But the best reason is to actually chat with the vendors themselves.  Have a favorite?  Reconnect with them.  Find out what they have coming down the pipe, or what things they’ve put out that you might not have heard of.  Swag is all well and good, but don’t forget that every free blinking light has a price.  At least be polite and find out what they’re about.  If it isn’t  your thing, you aren’t being rude by telling them.  Don’t waste their time either pretending to be interested if you aren’t.  But be civil and give them a shot, even if you haven’t heard of them before.

10) Don’t forget to have a good time!  ISTE is the ice cream sundae after a long year’s work.  Enjoy the experience.  Plan well, stay in the moment, and make the most of every minute you have there.  Balance the learning with the social time and make the most of both.  Work hard, play hard, and maximize your time.  You can always sleep on the ride home 🙂

Did I miss any tips?  Share your own below!