Who do I think you are? – A guide to meeting new people at a conference.

One thing your parents have taught you is being polite. Well, at least my parents were VERY keen on doing so. Next to being polite and something completely different is being an extrovert. Something I proud myself being. I love meeting new people, talking to them, letting them tell their stories to me and telling them stories myself. So the IATEFL conference actually is a dream come true. Good talks, an excellent atmosphere and amazing people to meet. Sitting down for lunch and just start talking to the people sitting at your table. Sitting down for a talk or workshop and start an introduction round between you and the person nearest to you (helps if you’re not playing the lone wolf sitting in the very back of the room). Going around the exhibition and finding a lonesome stranger standing around for you to approach and start a conversation with. Maybe just open the door for them (or keeping it open) and trying your best to be as polite as possible.
Those are the strategies of getting to know people that worked best for me. On the quest I called “Make as many new acquaintances as possible” I did get to meet quite some interesting people. There was Elona from the Netherlands whom I met in the Exhibition hall and had a lovely talk with. There was Maria, whom I met whilst drinking my coffee in Hall 5. There were three women (sadly I did not get their names) whom I and Lisa met during our lunchbreak just sitting at the table with.

And then there were some meetings with people I never thought that would happen.
On the first day during a talk I sat next to a lovely woman who was a very avid talker and loved telling me everything she recently did in Russia. During this conversation, however, she started mentioning how she got photographed over and over again and more and more people wanted to have a photograph with her. To say the least – I was confused. I had never seen this woman and apparently, she was a quite well-known short story writer! (And I am very sorry but I could not remember her name. Maybe it will come to me again, then I will inform you asap!)
My second interesting meeting was not planned at all, it was just an act of me trying to be polite and beating the stereotype that Brits were the most polite people. Stefan, Lisa and I did leave the SECC to go change building, when I saw a lady approaching, heading in the same direction as we did. As I tried to be polite, I held the door open and asked her if she wanted to join us. (Sadly, I did not get a reply on that question.) Turning back to my colleagues, both were staring at me as if I had just told them aliens were real or something, although I had no clue why. I just tried to be polite! Well, it then turned out that the woman I opened the door for was Penny Ur, a very well-known and appreciated author in the field of educational books, therefore somewhat of a celebrity. (By the way: It’s actually Ur, meaning the German pronunciation and not the typical British one. The explanation I got for that was because she does not want her name to sound like a hesitation marker. Understandable, really.)
Because it’s always best of three, I then did encounter Jeremy Harmer whilst waiting for Lisa (although I did wait for nothing as seemingly, she had left before me). Because I could not let him leave without having said a word to him I quickly complimented him on his amazing workshop he did with Jane Revell. He was quick to join in on the small-talk and asked me which talks I have attended afterwards, although I could not really think straight anymore after my brave first question. I leave it to you whether that was because of being near a well-kwon person or because of the sheer endless stream of information my head was trying to warp itself around.

The cherry on the top then was another encounter with a famous person in the circle of ELT teachers (although I just might be a bit biased here). Sarah Mercer, everybody! After her amazing plenary speech, Graz and the ELT department, but most importantly Sarah herself, was in the spotlight and on the map for many of the people at the conference! And who knows, maybe this leads to more opportunities, more visits and more talks of quite interesting people. (A little birdie even told me that a few people showed interest in visiting Graz and doing a talk at our university.)

Meeting new people can be exciting if you are brave enough to jump over the first hurdle and just speak to them. We are all teachers, we are all in the same boat and we share one passion – a language. And with a little bit of luck, who knows whom you will hold the door open for or talk to whilst waiting on someone?

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P.S.: Sorry for not taking any pictures with any of the people mentioned in that blog. Although I am quite forward I feel uncomfortable asking for photos. (I am ore of a building, flower and animal photographer, really.) So please enjoy a picture of our debriefing session during the lunch break, where we tried to make sense of a workshop by building beautiful patterns out of paper. On this photo, by the way, you can see more people I am very glad I got to meet or get to know just a bit better on this conference.

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