Avoiding the Conference Hangover

You’ve just returned to campus from a somewhat exotic location with hopefully better weather than what you are seeing outside of your window right now.

Next to your desk you have a reusable recycled bag filled with flyers, hand-outs, triangle highlighters, USB keys, a key chain that has the world’s smallest computer mouse attached to it and a notebook full of notes. That or you’ve opened up your Evernote account and realized how many notes, ideas, questions, and strategies you’ve heard about from the sessions you’ve attended and quickly close it to handle the 50+ e-mail messages, 10 voice mails, and desk full of Post-It to-dos.

“I don’t have time for this yet. Let me get settled then I’ll go through the conference stuff.”

A day goes by, “Ugh, I have to handle this mini-crisis first. Let me get this settled then I’ll go through the conference stuff.”

It’s Friday. “You know, let me tackle this on Monday when I have a fresh start. I need to give my brain a rest and recover from the traveling. Let me get that settled then I’ll go through the conference stuff.”

Monday comes and so do a new round of e-mails, voicemails, and to-do. All of a sudden you are in April making the rounds of the chicken and cheesecake banquet circuit, then comes May with graduations and hall closings, then June with Orientations, July with vacations, and September you realize that bag in the corner with a layer of dust hasn’t been touched.

Here’s the thing – whenever it is you do decide to digest, decipher, and discuss what you’ve learned I have three simple tips you should follow.

1. You need to STOP
Seriously. Stop. That amazing orientation idea that involved Twitter, balloons, a scavenger hunt, and the faculty in grass skirts cheering students on sounded great in the hotel conference room but stop. Stop before you share it. Stop before you send that e-mail saying, “I heard about this great idea, we should do…? STOP. Why? Because…

2. You need to reassess
You are stopping because you need to get off your conference high and really think about what works for YOUR campus. That huge university with the 5-tiered leadership program that includes off-site retreats and on-campus ropes course training complete with faculty mentors and athletic coaches worked for that campus culture. Look at the structure and the purpose of the program to find the main idea, then reassess what aspects of it would work for you. You may have just heard about a recipe that makes the most amazing walnut-chocolate chip cookies but your campus has a nut allergy. This means you have to adjust and see how you can make it work which brings me to…

3. You need to revamp
That great idea with the enormous budget? Subtract the enormous budget and all you are left with is a great idea. Revamp the plan /program you heard about to fit your campus. Find the aspects that worked really well and could be easily replicated without major cost. Did they have an interesting approach to marketing? Did they tap new resources that also happen to be on your campus? Did they share a tactic that could work with your campus politics with a few tweaks? Start thinking how the ideas could be applied to your campus, not how the programs can be regurgitated and re-manufactured.

What makes me a pro at this? Nothing. I simply have been lucky enough to go to a lot of major conferences early in my career and have come back to campus bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to change the world only to realize, what works at XYZ institution isn’t going to work at ABC institution.

When I do go to another conference (looking at you Indy) I won’t be looking for programs, proposals, handouts, or how-tos. I’m going to be looking for ideas.

Ideas are like recipes. There is always a substitute for an ingredient to make it work for your diet, your guests, your audience; it is just a matter of finding it and that’s my favorite thing to do.