How Conferences Are Like Summer Camp

This week, my youngest son went off to a week-long sleep-away camp for the first time. Of course, he was a bit nervous but mostly excited to spend a week with one of his best friends, without his parents, learning to rough it in the great outdoors.

At the same time we were getting him packed for camp, I was getting ready to attend a conference. Upon reflection, I was struck by the parallels between the two experiences:

  1.  Options and Investments
    Leading up to camp, you first start looking at the options – what kinds of camps are there for this age group, where and when are they offered and how much do they cost?

    Just like for camp, when considering attending a conference, you look for ones that offer something of interest, in your field or a related field, is appropriate for your experience level, somewhere you can easily travel to, at a time when you can take the time away from work and at a cost that you can afford.

    Once you narrow down the options, take the plunge and make a decision, register before it is full, and commit to the investment of time and money knowing that it will benefit you in the long run.

  2. Planning and Preparing
    Once we signed him up for camp, we received a welcome packet full of information about the camp, what to pack, more details about the activities they’d be doing and what to expect.

    Once you sign up for a conference, ideally you should get a “welcome packet” as well that gives you more information about the theme for the conference, what’s going to be happening (so you have a better idea what to pack), who’s going to be there (speakers and perhaps attendees as well), where it’s going to be held and where to stay. The information you receive should answer all your logistical questions. Go through all of the information thoroughly when you receive it in order to make all the necessary arrangements for your trip./li>

  3. Expectations
    Leading up to camp, my son had built up his own expectations and asked me lots of questions about the camp and who might be going.

    Leading up to going to a conference, think about what your expectations and goals will be for attending. How many people do you want to make a point of networking with? Anyone in particular (if you have access to the attendee list)? Which workshops do you want to attend and what do you hope to learn from them? Will there be an exhibitor hall? If so, take a look at the list of vendors and start thinking about who you might want to connect with there. Start building up excitement about going and set some goals for yourself. Get prepared mentally at this stage. And set some expectations with your boss and colleagues, if you can, about people from work not contacting you while you’re away (or the kinds of emergency situations that it would be ok to contact you about) and who will be the point person, instead, in your absence.

  4.  Free from Distractions
    The camp my son went to had a strict “no electronic devices” rule. Impose this rule on yourself, if you can, even if it’s just for the length of a workshop. Most of the time there won’t be any emergencies and things can wait until you get back. Take the time to really enjoy and get the most out of your conference experience. Try not to bring work with you and really immerse yourself in all that the conference has to offer – the learning opportunities, the networking and social opportunities, and even time to yourself if that’s what you need and crave.

    Being free from distractions allows you time to reflect and plan, much needed activities but ones that we don’t often get or allow ourselves to do in our overly busy schedules. When you get back to work, see if you can continue to schedule in distraction free times to continue this habit.

  5. Benefits
    Just like summer camp is a great time to make new friends based on shared experiences and interests, conferences provide great networking opportunities to build up your professional support network and to make life-long connections. Make sure you put yourself out there to benefit from these opportunities.

    Of course, it is also a time for fun and learning. Take advantage of all that the conference has to offer so that you keep up with the latest trends in your field, take away best practices, pick up nuances in service delivery, brainstorm solutions for issues you are having at your organization, engage in philosophical discussions related to your industry while being open to differing viewpoints, and bring home resources that will help your organization in achieving its mission.

  6.  Returning Home
    With packing up to go back home comes mixed emotions: happy to be getting back and sad to be leaving camp and your new friends behind.

    When you go back home and back to work, you have a number of new ideas, skills and experiences to share with others, some of which will easily translate and some of which won’t with people who didn’t attend the conference with you. Some things will end up taking more time to share (and possibly get buy in for) than others.

    There may also be an adjustment period for you getting back – inboxes full of voice messages and emails, people waiting for your responses, maybe even some fires to put out. So allow for all of this in your planning.

    You will naturally be excited about all that you learned and did at the conference. Remember, though, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Pick one or two ideas that can easily be communicated and implemented to keep up the momentum that you have going. Make a list of other ideas to tackle that may take longer or are more complicated and will take more steps to achieve.

    Being surrounded by diverse yet like-minded people in your industry and spending time with colleagues from other parts of the country or world and learning about what they’re doing is much like going to summer camp – an enriching experience that’s good for the soul. I highly recommend attending conferences on a regular basis as an investment in yourself and in your organization. It can take you out of your comfort zone and bring you some new and refreshing ideas.

The Rule of Thirds

Have you heard about the “Rule of Thirds” when it comes to your board of directors? Let’s see if it applies to your board….

Based on this rule, 1/3 of your board members will be amazing and go above and beyond for you as the Executive Director and the mission of your organization. They show up regularly to meetings, actively participate on committees and help you with fundraising efforts (as they should!) without being asked. They support you and are there when you need them, sometimes just to be a sounding board or give advice when solicited. They don’t even need to be asked or reminded to give a meaningful gift to the organization each year because they do it automatically. And they know and adhere to the boundaries of what their responsibilities are as a board member and what are not. They willingly, and without having to ask, act as an ambassador to the organization and recruit others to support it. This is the third of the board that exceeds your expectations. Can you picture who these people are on your board?

Another 1/3 of your board members will be ok and do what is basically expected of them. They mostly come to meetings, may be on a committee, and might occasionally help with fundraising when asked. They support you in theory but don’t go out of their way in practice. They probably need to be asked for their annual gift and even need a couple of reminders about it. They may even need reminders about what their role is and is not as a board member. They don’t actively act as ambassador for your organization or recruit others. This is the third of the board that is somewhat inconsistent. Have you got some board members who fit this description?

The final 1/3 of your board members will disappoint you. They hardly ever show up to meetings or respond to board emails. They don’t participate on any committee and never help with fundraising. You are not sure if they actually support either you or the organization as they are never around for you to find out. They don’t make an annual gift and can’t be pegged down as they are mostly MIA. They have no idea what their role is and don’t follow expectations. Forget acting as an ambassador! This is the third that just can’t be relied on at all and you scratch your head wondering why they wanted to be on the board in the first place. I'm sure you've got some board members in mind who fit into this category, right?

In order to stack the odds in favor of increasing your top third and decreasing your bottom third, the key is in how you attract and keep your board members engaged. Making sure it’s the right fit in the first place by having a good understanding about what they want to get out of the experience and what they can and are willing to bring to the table before they even come on board is critical. Remember that individual board members will not have the same expectations, communication needs, and strengths when it comes to acting as a board member for your organization. As a result, they will need to be treated individually and in a way that fulfills their expectations in order to keep them engaged. This doesn’t mean that you bend over backwards for them to do this. You definitely don’t want to be spending all your time cajoling high maintenance divas on your board. So weed those people out in the recruiting process and invest your time in the ones that help you make a difference in the world.

5 Ways to Benefit From a Snow Day

So, in my part of the world, it’s a snow day today.  Schools are closed, businesses are shut down and the media is advising folks to stay off the road as much as possible.  Outside the window is nothing but white for as far as the eye can see and it appears peaceful and quiet as the snow continues to fall. Pretty idyllic in a way.

At the same time, in my household, kids are home, on what would normally be a school day, making my work day a bit more chaotic than usual.

So how can this day be beneficial to those of us trying to get work done today? A snow day can be a great reminder to:

    1. Slow things down a bit – With all the responsibilities in our lives at work and at home, it can seem that every single second of the day is so programmed and accounted for that we don’t have a second to spare.  With a snow day, we are forced to slow things down as many of our commitments get cancelled. Take a cue from the stillness of what is out the window and take things down a notch today.
    2. Take time to focus on what matters – Take advantage of this by taking a minute to breathe, to cross the extraneous off your list,  and to prioritize what really matters.  For some people, this means spending time with your kids or maybe it’s your pets. Make the time count. It’s a gift to you today. For others, it’s taking the time to slow your thoughts down (as the inevitable list of need to dos come fast and furious in your head, jot them down for another time) and let your thoughts wander.  We rarely schedule time for just visioning and imagining where we want our businesses to go next.  This is a great opportunity to do that.  Another way to make use of the day is to spend time focusing exclusively on one project, one idea, one action that will move the needle on where you’re going in your business.  Hunker down in your snow fort and keep distractions at bay (you know what I’m talking about – emails, social media, cleaning the closet….).
    3. Do something nice and unexpected for someone – This morning, I looked out the window and saw a young man, no one I recognized, take a snow blower and clean off all the snow from the sidewalks on our block including the walkways to our front steps and the walkways to the road. No one asked him to do this and he wasn’t expecting to get paid for it. I know I sure appreciated it. Snow days are a great day to do something kind for someone else without expecting anything in return. It may be for a neighbor, a friend, a family member, OR even a customer of yours. It doesn’t have to be much but surprise someone by doing something for them today.
    4.  Take care of yourself – A snow day is a great time to treat yourself as well.  It could be something simple like taking the time to snuggle on the couch with an afghan and a good book or movie, or taking a minute to enjoy a cup of tea or hot chocolate.  Treating and taking care of yourself is a good way to re-energize and refocus your thoughts.
    5.  Go play in the snow! – Whether literally or figuratively, take the time to “play”.  It’s even more fun when you do it with your kids or your pets.  Taking time to play, even for a short time, will help you become more creative (research has shown that by stepping outdoors your ability to become more creative increases), loosen the cobwebs (by changing your physiology you change your mindset), connect you to others or to nature (enriching your life and theirs), and make you a happier you (and need I say, ultimately more productive you?). So give yourself permission to make snow angels, start a snowball fight, build a fort, go sledding or just go for a walk in the snow.  You can also “play” indoors by pulling out a board game or card game, building with legos, cutting out snow flakes, or just day dreaming out the window.

    Meanwhile, the snow keeps falling here.  Who knows, it could be another snow day tomorrow.  And if it isn’t, I’m going to call one for myself anyways.

    Remember, you can call a “snow day” any day you like – and you should at least a couple of times a year for yourself and your business to help you reset and focus.