This past September, I was recruited for combat duty by the Georgia Southern University Leadership Boot Camp. My job was to turn students into a well-oiled, combat-ready leadership machine. Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but I was the keynote speaker (“10 Steps to a Winning Mental Attitude”) and a break-out session presenter (“Making the Most of Your 24/7” and “Everyday Leadership”). However, this blog entry is about what I saw the Georgia Southern people doing right and some ideas for you to use on your campus.
Success Tactic #1– The event was put together by Mandie Thacker, the leadership coordinator of the Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement, with the assistance of a committee of active, engaged students. This was the 46th annual fall conference! That tells me something about the consistency of this event (an important ingredient in developing student leaders). It is something students can count on and look forward to each fall. The co-chairs had both previously served on the planning committee and had experience in putting the event on.
Success Tactic #2– The committee developed a theme “Leadership Boot Camp: Raising the Bar” and carried it through all aspects of the event. The planning committee, staff, and volunteers all wore camouflage pants and conference t-shirts in camo green with the conference theme on it. The leadership team came into the event in a military boot camp style and their verbiage, actions, and body language all supported the theme.
I feel this is important in order to really get the “buy-in” of attendees. I have seen some fantastic theme ideas at conferences and events that I have gone to, only to find the theme was little more than a marketing slogan and had no relevance to the event itself.
Success Tactic #3 – The program was organized into leadership tracks. This was apparently the first time they had used this idea and it worked well to circulate the students to different presenters and also give guidance to those who may not have had an idea of which programs to attend. My break-outs were part of the “Leadership Legacy” track, and some students stayed with me for both sessions, while some did not. It gave a purpose and a plan to the day and made the attendees think about what sessions would be most beneficial to them.
Success Tactic #4– Promotion targeted at gaining commitment. The committee engaged various departments on campus, such as Greek Life, Intramurals and Recreation, Residence Life, and others to send student representatives to the Boot Camp. These students were selected by their department and exhibited a real pride in their representation responsibilities. Each attendee had to pay a $15 conference fee. In some cases, it was paid by the department, but many students paid this fee themselves. Of course, they received more than $15 in “tangible benefits” such as a conference t-shirt and lunch, but the idea of there being money on the line really seemed to strengthen the commitment to learning and receiving value for dollars and time spent.
Mission Accomplished! – 350+ students attended that day, which was double the previous year. I like to think it was because of me! However, I realistically know that the staff and the planning committee put together a great event, created a plan for success, and then executed their mission flawlessly on the day of the conference.
What has worked for you in putting together successful student leadership conferences? Share your ideas below, or write your own blog and submit it to Campus Talk Blog.
By the way… The lady in the picture is Mandie. The little lady is my daughter – not quite ready for college yet!