I have been out of the loop, but am thinking about getting back into it this coming season if I can find the right one. However, finding that right one for me is a bit challenging because of the number I have already been to. My experience has been both good and bad, the latter has left me with several criteria for why I would not spend a dime on a particular symposium.
First, as some above, look at the classes and the variety offered. Make sure they are teaching something you want to know, not just something you “think you should know”. There is a huge diff in the pleasure of the experience between the two when you hit a day of bone chilling damp weather all day or find out halfway thru a class that the instructor seems unable to communicate anything in a way that works for you.
Ratios as above, in a true symposium you should not need to worry about those numbers.
Instructor qualification… I don’t have much use for seeing official qual’s any more. I really suggest asking around, even if it means reaching out thru pnet on email, to paddlers with a similar background to yours. A few of the instructors that I found to be bad to useless experiences are among the most highly certed coaches within their system. In most of those cases, I am not the only person who would say that. Sometimes it is an issue with coaches that are highly qualified but only work effectively with paddlers of a certain level or description, sometimes it is a coach that has had some very good days but when you get them they seem poorly focused. One coach I will not work with any more for a few reasons has this issue. This person had a flawless record for safety for example, better than most any of them. But a few years ago things got loose at their weekend coaching event and two paddlers in a weekend event were injured, one had to go to the ER.
If you were only paying a smidge to work with them, this stuff wouldn’t matter. But you are paying more than a smidge as well as committing a high amount of time and energy to the classes at many symposiums. Make sure if you are bone tired at the end of the day - you will be - it feels like it was worth it.
Class scheduling - just watch your energy. In a four or five day symposium, it is a good idea to build in a half day of relatively easy or for the hell of it work. Something that is pure fun and if you don’t do well at it, it doesn’t matter. Your head needs it as much as your body.
Any coach worth their salt should offer a solid student assessment. If they don’t, they are failing the criteria of their certifying organization. I have a couple of coaches are that are no-goes for me because of this. How that happens can vary, during the class as well as after. Either mode works if you have a good coach.
Personally, it is a loong day on the water and I have always favored spending enough money to have a warm, comfortable room to bed down. You also will have very early starts to the full day events. You will need the ability to make a hot beverage and pack a lunch and snacks in the room for the day where you are staying. And someplace to hang out the dry suit and wet gear that hopefully does not block the bathroom.