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I’m lucky enough to be able to attend a great deal of Art Ed conferences each year. Because of my role at AOE, I often attend state art ed conferences as a speaker, presenter, exhibitor, higher education instructor and art teacher looking to learn something new. As I attended the New Jersey conference this week, it really got me thinking about the difference between a successful conference and a unsuccessful one. They definitely put on an amazing event, so inspired and energized by the experience, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what makes a good state conference.
Here are the 7 Essentials to putting on a Successful State Art Ed Conference:
Great location. Plan your conference in a higher populated area that is central (if possible) to most of your membership. Illinois even has success with keeping their conference in a very similar location each year. This consistency can be a good thing. I know many larger states move it around and have different planners each year. It’s hard to say which is better.
Great keynotes. Oh man, I’ve seen it all. From keynotes talking about Industrial Hygiene, to visual artists who provide some nice ideas… A great keynote should be full of content and inspiration teachers can take back and actually USE in the art room, the keynote must tap into what is important to teachers right now, and inspire them for the upcoming school year. For example, in New Jersey the keynote speakers focused on Student Growth, which is an important state initiative right now. Smart.
Great Extras. Task parties, gallery walks, silent auctions, student art shows, banquet dinner, T-Shirts to purchase, an App to track your presentations, breakfast and coffee provided in the morning, and lots of smiling help can’t hurt to add to the fun of a conference. Just be careful not to pack in too much and overwhelm teachers.
A positive relationship with vendors. As an exhibitor you will find two schools of thought: Business is bad or business is good. Sometimes vendors are treated very poorly, and only welcomed in as a way to help fund the conference. A good conference treats vendors as an essential partner in helping empower art teachers to learn about products and services that can make their daily lives easier. When I was the exhibitor chair for my state conference, we even played ‘Vendor Bingo’ where participants could get stamps for visiting each booth and win prizes. It was fun!
Good freebies. Teachers love some SWAG! From nice canvas bags, sketchbooks, informational booklets, treats and art samples: Teachers love their loot!
Focus on content, content, content. Teachers come to a conference to learn. Presentations must be screened. To often, I think conferences accept ‘anything and everything’ as a way to make everyone ‘feel good’ about participating. Really ask yourself when screening conference presentations: Would I want to sit through that? Also, a few good presentations each hour is much better than a ton of average ones.
A Smart Schedule. Taking into account how many people are coming, and how many things you are offering during each time slot can be a game changer for a conference. Presenters want to know they will actually have people in their sessions, and teachers want to attend as many great sessions as they can, so finding that magic number of options will keep everyone happy. Presenting it in a professional and organized conference booklet is also a plus.