How to plan your own conference (lessons from #cctg)

It began with a simple tweet.

Last year in North Carolina, Duke Career Center staffer Samara Reynolds created something called C4. I don’t even recall what the four C’s were at this point…. career counselor something colloquium, I believe. I enjoyed that experience and thought it would be a good idea to do something similar, but focus it on career counselors who are interested in technology.

So, I tweeted a note to Ross Wade (Elon), Mallory Bower (UNC Pembroke) and Cameo Hartz (Duke), all of whom I know both IRL and through digital outlets. They were all on board. So, we dove in and planned it. And it was a great success.

Since then a number of folks from other geographic regions have been talking about planning something similar in their neck of the woods. So, I thought I’d post exactly how we went about creating the Career Counselor Technology Gathering, so others can see how simple it really was.

After the four of us agreed to be part of it, we scheduled a skype conference call. We spoke for about 45 minutes, and during this brief conversation, we outlined pretty much everything that #cctg would become.

1. We wanted it to be conversational
2. We wanted it to be “beyond the basics”
3. We wanted a diversity of offices/centers represented
4. We wanted it to be low headcount, high quality
5. Everyone who attends must present something.

So, we said no more than 25 participants, with no more than one person per career center. We then sketched out what the day might look like:

1. Morning introductions to include a success story, a failure story and a “cool tool” show and tell (whether or not that tool has actually be used in their center didn’t matter).
2. A long lunch for networking/conversation starting.
3. An afternoon based around structured conversations, which would be determined by the group and interests they reported

Ross volunteered space at Elon, so that was no problem. We set up a registration form, using a simple survey tool. We asked only for their name, contact info, institution/office, and what they hoped to get out of the day.

We set up a wiki page (on pbWorks’ BarCap system), and asked each registrant to add to the wiki to outline what tool they planned to present. On the wiki people could also volunteer to bring items like snacks, nametags, and other random things.

We sent an email around to the directors of all the career centers in the state, and made mention of it in notable outlets like the Career Center Technology Forum and NACE Social Media groups on linkedin. People tweeted about it. Mallory blogged about it.

We posted directions, parking info and so forth on the wiki page, as well as sending them out via email a few days before the event. I was in close contact with the hand full of out-of-staters who had decided to join us, making sure they were all set for transport and such.

Then we just let it happen. I think it was Cameo who described it best, I think. She said something like, “You know how sometimes the best parts of conferences are the conversations in between sessions. We wanted this to be nothing but those times.” So, it we gave a basic structure and outline to who we wanted in the room, and then we just trusted that those in the room would make it a good experience.

And it was, in fact, a great experience. If you’re planning one for your own geographic region, I’d be happy to chat more about what we did. But, realistically, just provide a space and get smart/interesting/cool people to show up and the rest will take care of itself.

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