Heading to your first ever in-person Teachers Pay Teachers conference? Attending TpT Forward is so exciting but can also bring up a lot of anxiety, nerves, and fears. In this post, I hope to share a few tips to help you get the most out of your first Teachers Pay Teachers conference.
How To Prepare for Your First Teachers Pay Teachers Conference
Mentally, there’s more to prepping for your first conference than just making a list of sessions. Follow these tips to make sure you’re really ready.
Teachers Pay Teachers Conference Tip #1: Set Your Intention
There are going to be a lot of great sessions presented by amazing sellers. You’re going to be pulled in every direction while you try to do #allthethings. But you simply can’t attend every session.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, head to the conference with one to two big goals for the next twelve months.
Is this the year you start a blog? Maybe you really want to commit to Instagram. Figure out your intention for the next year and plan around that big goal.
Then, focus on that goal and do every session that supports it.
My big goal in 2019 was to improve my blog, so I signed up for every blog-related session offered. The rest of my session slots went to big ideas that would help all of my products, like a great session on secondary teaching trends.
At one point, I was persuaded to attend a session I didn’t sign up for because the seller was an amazing presenter. While she was indeed a strong presenter, the information was not all that helpful for me or my personal goals. I left feeling like I had missed out on a session that could have been way more beneficial.
You know your business better than anyone else. You know where you’re headed, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Just because others are panicking about Instagram doesn’t mean you should attend all the Instagram sessions. (Especially if you know it’s really your email marketing game that needs work).
Teachers Pay Teachers Conference Tip #2: Make Some Social Plans Ahead of Time
Everyone I spoke to online said that making friends would be super easy. While I totally agree that TpTers are friendly, approachable, and inclusive, I did find it harder to meet people than I think I was led to believe.
However, I luckily did not end up spending the whole conference alone. There are Facebook groups for conference attendees and first-timers, which I joined right away. That was how I met my roommate, the amazing Gina Kortuem from Lit and More.
On the first night when we knew no one, we at least had each other. We spent the night listening to bluegrass, drinking old fashioneds, and eating food truck tacos. Had I let my introverted tendencies prevent me from reaching out in an online group, I probably would have spent that night alone in my room instead.
I highly recommend rooming with a stranger for these reasons. Not only will you save some money, but you’ll have a buddy to talk business with.
There are also meet-ups planned in these first-timer groups. They can help you arrange your lunch plans and meet others from similar circles.
While I’m glad that I had some time to be flexible later in the conference, I wish I had made solid plans to meet up with other first-timers on the first day. I ended up going to lunch alone. Some sweet veteran TpTers adopted me when they saw me eating alone, but I definitely felt a little awkward and out of my depth.
Meeting Other TpTers
One more thing I wish I had done before heading to the conference was to make a list of who I wanted to meet. I ran into so many amazing high school ELA sellers, but it always took me a minute to connect their real names with their stores and to figure out who I followed on what platform.
Next time, I’ll keep a list of “dream connections” in the back of my notebook with sellers’ real names AND store names.
Do try to avoid fangirling over your idols (I know, it’s hard). Remember that a lot of people are introverted (even if they’re famous TpTers) and try to respect personal boundaries. But don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and share how much you admire another’s work.
At one point, I found myself surrounded by well-known secondary ELA teacher sellers and felt really intimidated. I mean, my store was only a year old, my logo was self-designed, and my followers were so low. But the veteran sellers were so gracious.
The stunning Addie Williams even recognized one of my products, and it took everything in me not to run around the conference room in excitement.
Remember that no matter how small you may feel, just taking the step to attend the conference says a lot about what kind of seller you are and the commitment you have to your store.
Teachers Pay Teachers Conference Tip #3: Do Some Sightseeing
That said, don’t spend your whole time networking in the hotel. Get out! See the city! When are you going to be back there?
Have one or two local activities in mind that you really want to do. (Don’t aim for more than that though–you have limited time and you want to stay somewhat flexible for spontaneous plans.)
I love donuts AND I’m vegan, so I knew that I had to hit Voodoo Donuts while in Austin. So as soon as I checked into the hotel, I dropped off my stuff and left for some donuts. I’m probably a little food-obsessed, but after trying the donuts I’ve been drooling over online, everything else in Austin was just a bonus.
Once you have an activity in mind, invite others! Invite people out for lunch, dinner, or to a local spot. If you’re intimidated by inviting someone face-to-face, then post in one of those Facebook groups. Someone else (also alone and terrified) is sure to join you if you put it out there.
What to Pack for Your First Teachers Pay Teachers Conference
You might be even more worried about what to pack than what to do. But don’t fear! Packing for TpT Forward isn’t much different than packing for any other professional development conference.
TpT Forward Must-Have #1: A Notebook
You will see some sellers on social media go crazy prepping binders and folders for the conference. I guess if you’re type A and it makes you happy, go ahead and spend a ton of money on a pretty new binder, tabs, sheet protectors, and all new office supplies.
I wanted to be practical, however, and I suggest you do the same. Binders are kind of difficult to carry around and awkward to write in. Most of the presenter handouts are glorified note sheets. You really don’t need them.
I’ve heard from others and on various podcasts and blog posts that loose papers and binder inserts tend to be lost and forgotten.
Instead, grab one new notebook (the kind that’s ten cents during back-to-school sales) and just put all of your notes in there. That way, if you get sidetracked when you get home, you’ll know all of your notes are in one place.
In addition to having space in your notebook for notes from your session, include that list of people you want to meet.
Also, leave space for book recommendations! This is a great way to break the ice with other teachers–it’s more interesting than talking about stores or making small talk, but most teachers are reading something or have read something recently that they’re dying to talk about.
TpT Forward Must-Have #2: A Portable Battery
Also, bring a portable phone battery. This is not a place where you want to skimp. Buy a good one and charge it every night.
I was so busy on Facebook keeping up with conference updates and on Instagram finding new people that I met, that I had to charge my phone every day. My awesome battery kept me mobile.
TpT Forward Must-Have #3: A Water Bottle and Snacks
Don’t leave home without a water bottle. TpT conferences are always in the summer and always in hot locations. Be responsible. Stay hydrated. (And don’t pay for that $6 hotel water.)
TpT is pretty good about supplying water bottles and snacks, but I don’t think you can really have too many. By the last day of the conference, I was so exhausted! I was basically fueling myself with nonstop caffeine and sugar to keep going.
I don’t know if I would have made it through all of my sessions without a constant supply of granola bars in my bag.
TpT Forward Must-Have #4: A Clipboard
The one thing I wish I would have brought that I didn’t was a clipboard.
I spent a lot of time working in my notebook but had to awkwardly use my knee (or the conference floor) as a writing space. (Some sessions were so full, I ended up sitting on the floor. Or I had to sit on the floor to plug in my laptop.)
If you feel the desperate need for a binder, maybe try to fill that hole in your heart with a clipboard with storage.
TpT Forward Must-Have #5: A Comfort Item
Bring whatever helps you recharge.
For me, it was a book (Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson).
For others, it might be some music or a podcast.
The conference days were jam-packed, and I was exhausted throughout. By the afternoons, I needed a pick me up in every way. Don’t be afraid to just listen to some music or spend some time recharging in your room if you’re feeling run down.
TpT Forward Must-Have #6: A Laptop or Tablet
During my first conference, my laptop went everywhere with me. I loved being able to follow along as presenters mentioned WordPress plug-ins or walked through their social media content strategy.
Having my own device so I could try things as presenters walked through their steps was crucial for making things stick in my own brain.
My laptop, however, is massive, and carrying it around all day wasn’t a picnic. This year, I have a new tablet and I’m excited to take that with me instead.
But make sure you have something a little more powerful than your phone with you even if it’s just for working after the daily sessions. I did a lot of work in between sessions while I was feeling excited and inspired by all the new information.
Like with all things TpT, having the right mindset is the first step to success when it comes to attending your first Teachers Pay Teachers Conference.
If you make sure to do some networking beforehand, have a specific focus, and come ready to take notes, you’re sure to get your money’s worth out of the experience.