Another CollegeSource User Conference & Training Workshop has come and gone. Kerry Cooper, our CEO, declared there would be no “June gloom” and her conviction held true – we had picturesque weather all week long. We shared many meals and conversations outside, enjoying the beautiful scenery of Mission Bay, the lush grounds of The Catamaran, and each other’s company. Thank you to everyone who attended, it was truly a wonderful week.
To recap, both for those of you who attended and might still be reeling, and for those who couldn’t this year, I decided to sit down with our President, Troy Holaday, to get his perspective on the week.
This is an intense week of training. Did you have any specific goals for yourself, the users, or the conference in general? Do you think those goals were achieved?
I have really simple and universal goals for the conference experience: have fun, learn, and connect. These apply both to the staff and to the clients. We front-load most of the hard work (and there is a LOT of it) so that when day one of the conference arrives we are primed to focus on those three things along with users. Often during the conference we, the staff, take the other side of the “learn” goal and are teaching, but whenever we are not explicitly sharing and teaching we are listening and learning. We try to always be present and available, and our clients match us in that regard. There isn’t much session-skipping at a CollegeSource conference! The “fun” arises naturally for us and for clients as we share time and ideas in the company of others who really get what we do and why. I have been at other conferences where attendees always have their walls up. Anyone who has been to our conference breathes a sigh of relief when they realize how little posturing there is and experience how open and genuine all the attendees are with each other.
Do I think our goals were achieved this year? Absolutely.
Overall, do you think the conference went well? What were some of the highlights?
Every year that CollegeSource has had a conference (which began with the purchase of redLantern in 2009) it has gotten better. It has become more finely tuned, more satisfying, and more productive. This year was amazing. When I think about the conference it is never the big moments that stick with me; it is the little things. I expect that everyone has their own list of personal highlights. Here are mine…
Hearing from a client just before the final concurrent session that she was kind of sad it was the last one. She was so happy with the experience that she honestly wished we could start all over again the next week.
Joking around with Kerry right before the opening session on Tuesday morning and making shadow puppets behind the big screen. It was in that moment that I realized we could truly relax because we had done everything possible to ensure the success of the conference and it was time to put it in motion.
Being stumped by a client question in the middle of a presentation. Occasionally clients say things to me that are jarring in a fantastic way. They make me question why we “can’t” or don’t do something. They make me consider all the ways a problem might be solved and what the most useful, elegant solution would be. I really like trying to imagine my way through a problem to a cool solution. As a result, a good question for me is something of real value.
Listening to all the creativity and passion in the discussions about dealing with military learning experiences. This kind of discussion always gives me an appreciation for what our clients do and makes me grateful that someone is tackling these complex and often unglamorous situations with a sense of purpose, energy, and intelligence.
Watching one of our new staff members step out and do a presentation with charisma, confidence, and clarity. The conference allows me to look at our staff from a different perspective; it’s really cool to see them as clients see them.
Also, I would be lying if I didn’t include all the times during the conference when a client or coworker made me feel like I was some kind of superhero by telling me how much they appreciate what I do for the company and how I do it. I’m hoping all of my staff had those kinds of moments, because that is the single best motivation for doing our job well — knowing that what we do matters and is appreciated.
The big moments that I think everyone can relate to include the unveiling of major new product features, the surprisingly good (or in my case bad!) singing on karaoke night, and of course massively multi-player thumb-wrestling. (You had to be there.)
Each year the program, schedule, and other details are tweaked based on feedback. What are users saying? What changes might we see next year?
What are users saying? Yeah, that deserves a whole space of its own. I’ve collected snippets from post-conference emails and put them into another article in this month’s news feed, so please check them out. As for changes we might see next year? I think we are confident in that we have hit upon a really good formula for our conference. The 45-minute time slots keep things moving in a good way and we can (and do) sometimes chain a bigger topic together using several of these slots. We choose conference sites where the clients have plenty of space to socialize and we generally focus on creating events in which clients can bond and share experiences rather than trying to focus their attention on some kind of entertainment. We like easing into the conference with a Monday night event and ending at mid-day on Thursday. It’s actually pretty awesome and we don’t want to monkey with the things that work. This year the mobile app and tranquility room were fantastic additions, maybe we’ll come up with something equally creative next year. Oh, here’s a change I would like to see! I’m hoping for some more client presentations. The ones we saw this year were excellent.
The tentative location for 2015 was announced – Boston! Can you give us a sneak preview of what to expect?
All I can say is … making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name!*
* Lyrics for the Cheers theme song by Gary Portnoy