To Conference or Not
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2011 12:33:04 -0800 (PST)
On conferences: When I retired from teaching I vowed never to attend another 
conference. They are chaotic, crowded, complicated, and frustrating. No matter 
how well run they are, and the Coho conference last year was VERY well run, 
there are still glitches and the maps are never clear enough to avoid wandering 

Tips for making conferences more palatable:

Don't expect yourself to go to all sessions. Pick and choose. Even if you go to 
half the sessions you will still learn more than if you hadn't gone to the 
conference at all. And there are always interesting people sitting around 
outside the sessions that you can talk to, or just take a walk. Or a nap.

Learn your limits — two days of rooms full of people maybe all you can absorb. 
Don't be afraid to attend your first conference for only 2 days, or if you are 
close by, a day.

If you are an extrovert, find or take along a buddy. Start conversations with 
strangers. "Hi, I'm ___ from ___. Do you live in cohousing?" Usually that is 
enough to get things going. Remember to write down people's names. I'm still 
trying to remember the names of people I thought I would never forget from last 
year. I can only hope I run into them again.

Take along the food you really want or procure it down the street before the 
conference begins. Conferences in hotels are easier but conferences on campuses 
usually have limited options. 5 days of Pepsi for a Diet Coke person is agony. 
If you need carrots, take them. If you like a special soap, take it.

If you don't like a session, leave. If the room is small and it is obvious that 
you are leaving, excuse yourself nicely and apologize about a phone call you 
forgot to make. Or take a book and read — surreptitiously.

Take along your knitting or football gameboy or whatever you do at home to 
relax. You will feel more at home.

Ask the conference organizers questions. There are info tables staffed with 
volunteers, but there will also be an office or organizing room where people 
may be more knowledgable. If you don't know whether the banquet will be worth 
your time, ask. Acting dumb can get you a lot of information.

Scout the city beforehand. The Takoma Village website has a lot of information 
for visitors — check out "Useful Links" to see what you might do while there. 
Walk around the hotel environs and see what is available close by. Take a Metro 
ride just for the hell of it so you will know how to plan a trip later in the 

Google Earth is a program you can download to your computer and tour the area 
where the hotel is and other areas of DC too. Great fun.

Staying in the host hotel is always easier because there is enough running 
around just going from one session to the next, but don't be afraid to 
economize. Adjacent hotels are often cheaper. I have also found that you can 
sometimes get cheaper rooms in the same hotel by staying on a floor that is 
several floors away from the center of the action. Take food with you. Ask if 
the rooms have refrigerators. A room with a refrigerator in the host hotel can 
be cheaper than one next door without.

Fresh air is usually at a premium. Go outside and you will feel better.

Last year's conference was superbly well organized. No amateur production, so 
you don't have to worry about that.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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