I don’t know about you, but each time I prepare for a conference, I’m initially excited, then apprehensive about even attending. Of course, I never tell anyone else at my writing center (now the word’s out!), but typically I just want to disappear the day before. I mean, don’t conferences sound stuffy and formal? Yet as soon as I arrive, I see all the tutors and directors chatting and eating, and I’m excited for the day.
While I certainly gain tremendously from all the sessions I attend, I find myself blown away by how much facilitating teaches me. With the recent conference being the third under my belt, I have come to learn what works for me, and what I really need to improve upon. At my first conference, I had already spent a year practicing giving directions as a student coordinator, and found I could do this fairly well in my session. But I had difficulty drawing the participants’ attention and dealing with unexpected comments. An issue of presence, I came to think of it, and have since worked on how to develop my skills as one presence more energetic than the group! I took these lessons to the national conference, where I presented the same workshop, and found huge improvements.
At this year’ regional conference, I facilitated a workshop with two other writing assistants (our name for tutors). Because our session was on using play at the conference table, we wore extravagant hats and goofy accessories to lighten the mood. And it worked on many levels: the audience felt encouraged to play, and I felt my presence take on a fun spirit rather than remaining forced and stunted. For me, learning how to create a presence as leader in a group is crucial because I want to teach. And when trying to facilitate a class, nothing works better than a professor with an engaging presence.
So my main plug is to encourage any tutors out there, undergraduates especially, to try out facilitating a conference session. Just going to a conference is fabulous, but I realize now that allowing tutors a venue to facilitate is one of the greatest opportunities a conference can offer.