Tag Archives: conference

A successful conference that discussed failure.

Keynote presenter Felicia Day with the incomparable HighEdWeb President Colleen Brennan-Barry.

Keynote presenter Felicia Day with the incomparable HighEdWeb President Colleen Brennan-Barry.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

Intended or not, that was a major message coming through for HighEdWeb 2017 (#heweb17) that rocked and inspired hundreds of attendees in Hartford. The conference itself was a tremendous success — and one that, perhaps paradoxically — addressed the idea of failure, and why it’s part of the process, more than any other gathering I can recall.

A moving and magnificent keynote by actor, author and content creator Felicia Day especially drove the point home. Day — who pioneered successful crowdfunding for entertainment and has brought the enjoyment of a fun nerdy character to everything from her project “The Guild” to “Supernatural” to “Dr. Horrible’s Singalong” to the “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” reboot — was honest in how many times she took the wrong path on the way to an amazing career.

“Mistakes are rewarding,” she said at one point. “They are the best thing you can do.” She added that people are more successful when they risk failure instead of moving cautiously toward what they consider guaranteed success.

Day added we should treat ourselves as our own research projects — the key is to discover ourselves, as “the greatest tragedy is to not be who you are.” She has coped with anxiety and a desire to be perfect, and learned along the way there should be no shame to reach out for help, whether via a support group or counseling or anything that can bolster our mental health.

She said her own daughter serves as a kind of inspiration: We all have some joy in our lives we wouldn’t have if not for mistakes. Lose the regret, Day advised, and instead of dwelling in negativity, live a good and kind life that shows that being different, even being nerdy, is cool.

I had the honor of asking a question in the resulting audience Q&A, which essentially said that, yes, this really inspired us, but how can we bring the similar attitude — mistakes are OK and fuel success — back to the sometimes risk-averse atmosphere of higher education? While acknowledging that Hollywood was very risk-averse, which is why she independently funded so many wonderful projects, Day noted the idea of doing pilots the way the TV industry does is a great solution. Doing a pilot project, no matter how small, that shows something can be done is a useful first step to larger projects that can help our students, our colleges and our world.

One thing is certain: Bringing the honest, intelligent and engaging Felicia Day as a keynote speaker was by no means a mistake.

Theme warning

Presentation slide: Get permission to fail

Unfortunately, I don’t even realize which presentation featured the slide Amy Wolf shared about getting permission to fail, but it perfectly encompasses something that came up a few times.

In her session that won the Best of Conference award, “The Art and Science of Collaboration,” Day Kibilds of Western University discussed using lessons learned and avoiding past mistakes can develop collaboration and drive winning projects. All with a “Game of Thrones” theme, I should add. In short, she encouraged us that if think about worst-case scenarios (like zombie White Walkers overrunning the Seven Kingdoms) to motivate stakeholders to work together, if we have the right players to have honest and healthy discussions, and if we acknowledge institutional mistakes and/or inconveniences, projects can be turned around if treated as an opportunity for learning.

Unknowingly, I joined the trend as I presented “7 Habit[at]s of Social Media Storytelling.” (Thank you to Donna Talarico for the marvelous recap!) And I’m not just saying out of realization as I developed the presentation I had taken the wrong approach — don’t base it on channels but on content and process instead — and had to practically rewrite the whole thing, nor because I goofed in thinking I could get it completed in just 45 minutes (sorry).

Nope. I’m happy that the presentation included a slide that read:

You will fail sometimes, but that’s OK.

The only people who never fail are people who never try.

And this #heweb17 wonderfully encouraged us to try, fail and try again. It’s really the only road to success.


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how twitter helped revitalize a conference lineup.

About three years ago, almost no one outside New York state had heard of the annual SUNYCUAD Conference. Last month, some of the top experts in their fields were celebrating, via social media, being accepted to speak at SUNYCUAD.

So what happened? In large part, Twitter. Not entirely, but the microblogging community really created much more buzz — and, moreover, real-life connections — than before.

The first SUNYCUAD conference I attended years ago featured many vendors speaking. “If you buy our service, this is what you can do,” spilled from a few sessions, and others just didn’t give much in the way of takeaways . Even though I love the organization — for development and communication professionals throughout the State University of New York system — and the event itself, the conference was watered down with too many tracks and not enough fresh speakers or ideas.

When I first joined the programming arm of this group, we already had good speakers, sure, but too many of them, and often the usual suspects over and over. So we compressed the tracks, favoring quality of speakers over quantity. But then a funny thing happened in 2009. We started live-tweeting some of our awesome speakers, and people all over North America said via Twitter: “I have no idea what SUNYCUAD is, but it sounds great!”

Last year we added a panel of top experts we termed our faculty-in-residence, starting with a panel presentation to set the conference tone. I’m proud to say that this year’s conference faculty will include Mark Greenfield, a headline-level speaker around the world and member of the SUNY family, whom I would not know well (nor have asked to speak) if not for Twitter.

With our call for presenters, and perhaps the most successful method of distribution was via Twitter … either the @SUNYCUAD account or various retweeters. Among those who applied and we selected as speakers, many were folks I wouldn’t have known without Twitter, many wouldn’t know SUNYCUAD existed if not for Twitter and some wouldn’t have applied if not for the Twitter announcement of the call for speakers.

So whenever people pooh-pooh the prospect of Twitter building brand or business, I can point to a pretty cool conference in Saratoga Springs this June as proof it works. If you can’t make it, expect to see some pretty cool live tweets!


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thursday travelogue: las vegas: everything is possible but nothing is real.

Two Elvi and a Las Vegas signWelcome to fabulous Las Vegas
Give us your dreamers, your harlots and your sins
Las Vegas
Didn’t nobody tell you
The house will always win?
— “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas,” Brandon Flowers

Others have filed great recaps of the outstanding #simtech10 conference in Las Vegas, so I figured, as an urbanist, I could file my thoughts on our host city. No other place has such a pervasive and glitzy ad campaign, telling people that what happens there, stays there. It’s a casually well-crafted image.

And yet, leaving Las Vegas, I knew I would not miss the city. My friends from the conference I would — and do — miss tremendously, but Las Vegas is too loud, too brash, too in-your-face, too crowded … just too much. Every block on the strip involves running a gauntlet of card-slapping hired hands trying to push strip clubs and prostitution. Coupled with the slow-moving tourists and the overstimulation of sights and sounds, it resembles some kind of smoky, seedy video game.

Oh sure, I can recommend all kinds of things. Dollar drinks and the crazy karaoke characters at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Casino were a hoot. Our group dinner at Bradley Ogden in Caesar’s Palace was quite possibly the most delicious (and not coincidentally, most expensive) I’ve ever had. Our hotel, The Paris, was inexpensive and features the awesome Napoleon’s Dueling Piano Bar and fantastic Le Village Buffet, among other attractions.

Eiffel Tower, the Paris Hotel version

And yet one of my lasting impressions came from taking a 6 a.m. run with some friends, which seemed like being backstage at a carnival. People are still out drinking or stumbling in at that hour. You can see senior citizens sitting at slot machines — were they still there from the previous night or getting an early start? And cleaning crews attempt to take care of some of the profuse of refuse from the previous day’s carousing.

One thing the ads won’t show you is that, among the revelry, you can feel an undercurrent of sadness in Las Vegas. The unemployment rate is a staggering 15%, evidence of what happens when a boom goes bust. While the hustlers crowd the more unfortunate panhandlers off the strip, you can find people begging, busking or sleeping on overpasses and in the city’s less glamorous areas. And if you gaze at people mesmerized by slot machines for hours, blank expressions make you wonder if the machines sucked their souls along with their cash.

I started this entry with Las Vegas favorite son Brandon Flowers, but will paraphrase the band Living Colour for my succinct summation of the city: It’s a place where everything is possible but nothing is real. Decadence walks beside despair, splendor sits aside sorrow. The city runs rife with contradictions, of soaring reveries and dashed dreams. The one truth is that, ultimately, the house wins, and it’s mainly the city promoters laughing all the way to bank.


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#hewebvc: a conference about doing awesome stuff.

To briefly summarize a main thread of last week’s HighEdWeb Regional Conference at Vassar College (known to us Tweetheads as #hewebvc), it promoted doing awesome stuff. Appropriately enough, it was — presentation for presentation — the best conference I’ve ever attended.

Keynote speaker Kevin Prentiss of Red Rover set the tone with his definition of engagement: Do awesome stuff + get it online + share it with people. Or, if a really cool tree falls in a forest, hope to get it on video and shared via YouTube. Kevin also talked his ongoing project to create “a new student union” via online directories where students share photos, interests, tags and links. Think Facebook, but more localized and less evil. The conference really started me thinking about doing more with content aggregators.

Mallory Wood at St. Michael’s College talked about the awesome stuff her college does with YouTube. No media is richer than video, and with the ever-increasing popularity of YouTube, Mallory finds an outstanding and eager audience of prospective students engaging her videos. She discussed and showed clips from both their in-house DIY videos and the winner of a student video contest.

Briee Della Rocca of Bard College at Simon’s Rock championed strategic objectives above chasing the latest shiny apps. Briee spoke from an alumni relations perspective, but her advice on using social media channels for what they do best and how to increase interaction were on the money for everyone. And her digital magazine finding clever ways to create engagement will definitely do awesome stuff.

Rick Allen of Babson talked about the importance of content strategy in Web communication. View yourself, Rick advised, as a publisher of deliverable (and awesome!) content moreso than a marketer. It’s challenging because content is massive, political and time-consuming, but it’s worth it. FAQs too often exist as a last-ditch cover for poor content strategy and development. Coordinate institutional messages!

Oh, I presented at the end of day one about having students play key roles in your social media efforts including blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. In sum, students are our most authentic, most dynamic, most powerful resources … and they should receive the tools and support to do awesome things. (Here’s an entry with links to some of the things I mentioned.)

Day two began with the inimitable Robin Smail of Penn State discussing authenticity in social media. You best reach authenticity by learning not to control everything, listening in social media instead of using it as a bullhorn and getting everyone involved. Doing awesome — and authentic — stuff works best when everyone feels comfortable and part of a team.

How do we know if people are finding — and, more importantly, engaging with — our awesome stuff? That’s where a presentation by Jessica Krywosa of Suffolk University came in handy. Jess noted raw numbers (i.e. hits) don’t mean a thing without context of what is happening offline. The best question to ask in analytics is not “how many people visited?” but “how many people took a desired action?”

Jake Daniel of Ithaca College discussed institutions finding their brand identity (voice) in social media. Those running awesome Facebook or Twitter accounts should talk like a person (not a machine), provide a friendly institutional voice and find clever ways to simply communicate complex ideas. He posited friendcasting — one-on-one conversation — is much more valuable than broadcasting in social media.

JD Ross chronicled awesome stuff happening with Hamilton College’s Class of 2014 Facebook group. Since students are there to interact with peers, administrators should facilitate, not manage, conversations. Hamilton promotes it frequently during student contacts in the admissions cycle. JD discussed sustainable options, such as turning groups over to students or making available after graduation as alumni groups.

I found every speaker relevant, engaging and informative. I enjoyed seeing — and drawing ideas and inspiration from — all the awesome stuff happening in higher education. I think we all benefit from our field gaining and sustaining a “wow” factor. Thanks for everyone who coordinated, presented and attended!


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wanted: a few great speakers.

Do you have something you would love to share with hundreds of higher education professionals? Would you like to attend an exciting conference with a range of interesting college types and other top presenters? Haven’t you always wanted to see Buffalo in June? (Really, it’s an underrated city.)

We’re looking for a few great speakers for the 2010 SUNYCUAD Conference, June 9 to 11 in Buffalo. Those who attended last year’s conference or just viewed the Twitter streams and takeaways know that this event — attended by professionals from 64 State University of New York campuses and SUNY system administration — continues to build a high level of speakers. We’re a friendly, down-to-earth bunch of public-college workers in such areas as alumni relations, communication, development, marketing and Web. And did you know that Buffalo was the birthplace of the chicken wing?

Our conference theme is integration — of strategies, of resources, of technologies, and we have subthemes on branding, social networking/digital strategies and ROI/seeking success amid budget stress. Can you speak on those topics, and help us hard-working, well-intended, conscientious workers better serve our students and other stakeholders? Can you appreciate a city with lots of surprising cultural activities (and bars open to 4 a.m.)?

If you answer our call for proposals and you’re selected, we’ll provide free conference registration for what’s always an interesting event, cover your travel expenses and pick up one night’s accommodations. And while President William McKinley was assassinated visiting the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo, most people who visit the city find it charming.

So … are you interested in speaking at SUNYCUAD 2010, of using your knowledge and insight and skills to help us make a difference? In meeting hundreds of very nice people? In seeing the splendor that is Buffalo in June? Then visit our Call for Proposals page, download a form and return it to us by Nov. 6. Or drop me a line if you have questions. We’d love to hear from you … and hear what you have to say!

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HighEdWeb Cornell: people and things.

It seems appropriate I wouldn’t have even known about last week’s HighEdWeb regional conference at Cornell if not for Twitter. The hot site was a key thread of the conference, but Twitter’s success mirrors what the conference reinforced for me: Technology is great, but ultimately people are what count.

I jokingly referred to the conference as Twitter: Behind The Avatars, because I met a lot of neat folks I only knew from Twitter and gained a few more tweeps. I was one of the busy live-tweeters imparting information and interpretations for those not present. Though if you look through the #hewebcornell hash tags you’ll also see lots of snarky comments, jokes and even spirited debate over speakers’ points.

@rachelreuben channels eduGurus @fienen, @karlynm, @NikkiMK, @kylejames, @nickdenardis for a social-media discussion.

@rachelreuben channels eduGurus @fienen, @nickdenardis, @kylejames, @karlynm and @NikkiMK for a social-media discussion.

A very quick recap (140 characters or less) of speakers and key points:

* Dirk Swart (Cornell) on introductory usability: champion simplicity, make users comfortable, provide consistent layout, function > form.

* Christine Kowalski (UBuffalo) on usability w/team of 1: seek creative ways 2 find time, people, $, approval. Noted userfly.com, crazyegg.com.

* Rachel Reuben (New Paltz) and eduGurus, social media storytelling. Great minds emphasizing content, authenticity, building community, goals.

* Casey Dreier (Cornell) on launch sites: give subgroups hyperlocal content, make info delivery flexible, keep your sites interesting/fresh.

* Jesse Rodgers (Waterloo U) on project management: track issues; contain scope, cost, time; ID risks/alternatives; consider critical paths.

* Mark Greenfield (UBuffalo) on embracing change: What are colleges’ core competencies? What will be outsourced? Evolution key to survival.

A meeting of the minds.

A meeting of the minds.

At the end of the conference, I watched a few engaged higher-ed social-media types — @rachelreuben, @ICchris, @jakedaniel and @jrodgers — talking to @kprentiss about a fascinating project he’s developing. Preparing to leave, I realized that, even though I previously only knew most of these people via Twitter, I had thoughts to share with each of them: a compliment for a presentation, a good-luck for an exciting idea discussed, a thanks for making this fun. Sure, the technology brought us together, but ultimately what I found on the other end of the avatars were a lot of interesting folks. The things that connect us will come and go, but connections with quality people have the real lasting value.


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present like you mean it.

I somehow survived presenting for the first time at an academic conference, discussing Oswego’s transformation from the ’40s through ’60s as part of SUNY’s 60th anniversary conference. I heard our group had the biggest audience (including several college presidents and SUNY’s new Chancellor) of any breakout session, and quite a few folks even said they enjoyed it (very polite of them). The compliment I received most often was entertaining, not smart or anything, but I found it all thrilling.

Given that I’m certainly no gifted speaker, here’s what I’ve gleaned — from watching other presentations and kind words about my talk — about what seems to best engage audiences in these sessions.

1. Personalization. Listeners said they particularly liked when I talked about people, not just dates and data. It’s always good to put a face to the story; at the start I talked about college founder Edward Austin Sheldon the unlikely educational revolutionary (he hated classes as a child and dropped out of Hamilton College). As any reader of Made to Stick knows, stories help make abstract ideas concrete.

2. Go strategically off-script. Some presenters almost never looked up from their papers, not utilizing the benefits of making eye contact. I chose a few moments to step out and speak off-script, almost extemporaneously. Those parts had structures within which to improvise, like a jazz tune. Pulling back to address the audience, whether with anecdotes or bits of context, both shows you know the material and alters the rhythm to catch even sagging listeners’ attention.

3. Enjoy! Even if presenting isn’t your favorite thing, look like you’re having the time of your life. You wouldn’t believe how many people present with a frown, a scowl or dispassionately. If you don’t act as if you like the subject, how can you expect the audience to? The presenters who seemed to enjoy themselves were always my favorites. For my part, I tried to inject levity by making fun of academic jargon, dull architecture, current students’ instant gratification, campus rivalries and old-fashioned salary structures.

>> But don’t these tips work in business too? Isn’t it better to personalize your services, treating customers as individuals and telling interesting stories? Going-off script — being spontaneous and improvising — is key when things don’t always go as expected. And enjoying what you do, making it fun, benefits everyone; don’t we all prefer to deal with people who enjoy what they’re doing?

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wanted: college web speakers for suny cuad conference.

In a somewhat questionable move, I was recently appointed the Web track chair for this year’s SUNY CUAD Conference June 10 to 12 in Lake Placid. So I’m looking for interesting, informed, informative higher education professionals who may want to present to fellow college peeps.

Wanted: College-based doers who can discuss Web-related topics, particularly social media. Must have something to say and an ability to say it well. Perhaps have solved some common Web-related higher-ed challenge in a cost-effective way. Audience is college practitioners following such tracks as Web, marketing, PR, publications, alumni relations or development; ability to appeal to more than one track is a bonus.

The conference will take place at the High Peaks Resort in the lovely little Adirondack city of Lake Placid. The resort has a spa, a marvelous view of Mirror Lake … and even a Facebook page, Flickr tour and Twitter account (yay for Web 2.0!).

Conference organizers can cover travel and accommodations for presenters. Alas, we can not pay honoraria to track speakers due to a tight budget. I could be convinced to buy a drink or 10 for speakers if they so desire (those into microbrews may enjoy the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery). And our attending SUNY CUAD peeps tend to be wonderful down-to-earth folks and a lot of fun.

Interested? Feel free to drop me a line. Or even if you just want to suggest a good conference topic in the comment box, go ahead!


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