Conferences 3.0: Planning Teams

June 25th, 2012

This is a continuation of a discussion centering around the improvement, growth, and evolution of conferences (not just higher education conferences). Follow and contribute to the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #conf30, which stands for Conference 3.0.

In previous posts, we’ve outlined what you should expect when joining the conference planning team, as well as what participants should be able to demand from a conference experience. But what does all this get you as a student affairs professional? Why do it?

As you can imagine, we have a few ideas. Conference chairs, please take note!

Members of the Conference Planning Team should be able to…

Understand the role
– Have access to information from previous conferences or planning meetings early in their process of participation.
(Giving me the wrap-up report from last year’s conference as we set up for registration does not help. It just gives me something else to carry home in my luggage.)

– Have a clearly defined set of expectations, time commitment, responsibilities, etc. BEFORE they commit to the role.
(See Joining the Conference Committee for a general list.)

– Have an “out” within the first two months of membership on the board.
(No questions asked, just not the right time, something came up, etc. It may have seemed like a perfect fit 3 months ago when they applied and get hired but things didn’t work out. Let me go so I’m not dead weight and don’t judge me for doing so. Remember, I’m thinking of the greater good of the committee.)

– Have access to conference chair beyond scheduled conference calls and meetings.
(Please, please return my phone calls, emails, texts, Facebook messages and tweets. I really DO need your help!)

Expand and Grow (your mind, not your waistline)
– Be challenged.
(The Wii entertainment tournament, not the challenge we are talking about. We don’t mean overloaded with extra work and given everything the conference chair doesn’t want to do – we mean stretching your mind challenged.)

– Be able to explore an area of interest unrelated to their specific job position.
(Don’t we preach not to be all “oh you are a marketing student, you can make all the posters!”, let’s not do that to each other. And guess what? People tend to work harder and do a better job when it’s something they love and don’t get to do as often. )

– Have the ability to be innovative, try new things, and experiment.
(Do not, I repeat, do not allow the committee to come up with lots of fun, exciting new things and then tell them, “Actually, we’re just going with what we did last year.” Sure to be a buzz kill.)

– Think creatively of how to document, catalog, log, write, shoot, the entire experience resulting in a post-conference report filled with “what we did, why we did it, how it worked, how it didn’t work, what can be improved, snapshots of attendees, snippets of attendee reactions, and follow-up with attendees post conference.”
(Bullet points and summaries are no longer suitable. Show those who missed out on the conference what they actually missed out on. Bullet points and summaries don’t tell me what the experience was like, photos and voices do.)

– Be ok with their idea not working out as planned.
(Practice what we preach to our students – mistakes and failure also teach us something.)

Connections & Networking (Call me maybe?)
– Have the opportunity to make connections that are relevant to their current job.
(Most of us are not looking for a job in the hotel restaurant, but we sure would like to be introduced to that up-and-coming SSAO over there.)

– Be able to trust their fellow planning team members – when someone says they will finish something, it will be finished. (Not referring to the cookie plate.)

– Be engaged with prospective conference attendees and organization membership via blogs, tweets, hangouts, videos, and *gasp* phone calls.
(*If you want to be really original, start a fax chain letter.*  Weddings now have websites where you can read the story, see the pictures, and get updates from the Bride & Groom. Why can’t a conference?)

Takeaways, SWAG
– Be able to have fun.
(Not get plastered in your conference fleece vest fun. Fun as in, high fives behind the curtains fun.)

– Be recognized for their efforts.
(Not everyone gets stars, but you should expect a handshake and a pat on the back even if it comes from an unlikely source (hotel staff?). Accept it knowing your work was recognized.)

– Be encouraged/empowered to share with their supervisor, colleagues, campus what they are doing and learning as part of the experience.
(There is nothing more frustrating than having an awesome experience at a conference and then not being able to share in the wealth. Except for being out of reach of the cookie plate.)

This list is certain to grow and we want you to cultivate it. So please share with us, what do you think conference planning committees are entitled to as part of their “rights, expectations, wish list”?

This is cross-posted on my co-conspirator’s blog as well: you can follow him at@JoeGinese