There are three things that make a homeschool convention stand out as being better than the rest. It is not what you think. Some think a convention is all about the attendee experience. While this is quite important, there are other factors that go on behind the scenes that set conferences and conventions apart.
Working behind the scenes and directing the largest homeschool convention in the country I find there are three things that make an event better than any other. You want to attend a great homeschool convention. But you don’t want to waste your time and money attending one where the focus is not in the right place. Consider how the conference team handles these three things to see if you are attending a homeschool event of quality.
The Care and Keeping of Speakers and Exhibitors
Speakers and Exhibitors are valuable! They are an extension of the organization behind the event. The organization should foster this relationship with great care.
Are the featured speaker needs being met? Nearly all speakers travel for the conventions and they need to be compensated for their travel and their time. The organization should be taking care of their travel and lodging. I prefer to give a travel stipend to allow each speaker to utilize this travel budget that works best for their needs. Some speakers prefer to drive while others prefer to fly. All in all this method allows the most flexibility for the speaker and the organization.
Honorariums are a must for speakers. Is your organization supporting the featured speakers with payment for their time and expertise? Speakers work very hard and share their research and experiences from the podium, but also in their booth and sometimes even after the exhibit hall closes. As attendees, we can honor their time by making purchases in their booths.
Booth space and location is key for both speakers and exhibitors. Featured speakers should be easy to find. Prominent speakers and exhibitors that partner with the conference organization should be given the very best location in the exhibit hall. These speakers and exhibitors have invested their time and money to support the organization outside of this event.
Is there an exhibitor lounge on the exhibit floor or nearby? This area is a private place for exhibitors, speakers, their staff and families to rest their feet and take a break. This is just one small way the organization can cherish and meet the needs of the exhibitors and speakers.
I have chosen speakers for events for over 15 years. It takes months of building relationships before even choosing a speaker. Speakers are chosen for their platform, their willingness to serve and of course their commitment to your attendees. Your organization has spent time and energy choosing just the right speaker for their event and this relationship does not end once the speaker is secured.
So what’s the difference between speaker types? There are featured speakers that are invited to speak and offer a great deal of wisdom and expertise. These speakers are a draw for attendees as typically they are nationally known or have a large following. Workshop or lecture speakers are often still growing their following, are lesser known, but may bring just as much wisdom and expertise. Exhibitor workshops or presenters often pay to get the privilege to share their product or service. They are experts as well, but their intent it to share their story or offer information about their product. The types of speakers are often compensated differently, based on their role at the event. Often they are given booth space, honorariums or special advertisement considerations.
Curious as to how the speakers are cared for by an event? Call and ask conference coordinator! Ask your favorite speaker if they are well cared for at the next event you attend. Their answers may surprise you!
The Care and Keeping of Volunteers
Do you see the same people working behind the scenes each year at the homeschool conference you attend? If not, I would be concerned.
The organization behind the event should be behind their volunteers. I treasure the amazing teams that I have worked with over the years. I am truly grateful for all their help. Retaining volunteers shows support for the organization and for the volunteer.
Is the volunteer program beneficial to the volunteer? Compensating volunteers seems opposite for the idea of volunteering. But let me explain. Some families and individuals simply cannot attend conventions or conferences due to cost. Trust me when I say that homeschooling conferences are by far the most economical professional development available. Take a minute and search out the cost of attending a conference for your business or career area. How much are those tickets? Yes, about five times the price of a comparable homeschool conference.
Anyone can attend a homeschool conference if they make it a priority. There are some states that offer all kinds of opportunities to their volunteers. Some offer deeply discounted or even free tickets, some offer special free access to the extra add-on events for volunteers. And volunteer long enough and you may even be invited to stay at the conference hotel on their dime! Volunteers should be cherished and supported.
Volunteers come back each year to serve when they are valued. Volunteers see and experience so much more than the attendee. They are often the first contact for an attendee. They serve far beyond what they signed up for. Often there are others that help watch their children or assist in other ways so they can serve. Volunteers should be asked for feedback from their serving. They see things from a different perspective and their feedback should be considered. Give your volunteers a voice.
Are the volunteers at the conference you attend valued? Are they well cared for?
The Care and Keeping of You, the Attendee
What should every attendee expect at a well-run homeschool convention or conference? We plan for months to attend this annual event. We look for workshops and networking opportunities. We look for resources and we look for information. Is your conference offering these things?
Direction – Can you find where you are going? Are their volunteers to help you find your way? Were you mailed a detailed print program? How about a mobile app? Yes, these are all things that make your experience better. There is nothing worse that not being able to find the workshop or event you want to attend.
Comfort – Is the location where this event is held easy to get to? Is there carpet in the exhibit hall? Yes, I said that! This is one of those finer details that cost a great deal of money. Carpeting in the exhibit hall costs organizations thousands and thousands of dollars each year. But, it comes down to serving well. Some venues have carpet and others do not. Carpeting may seem like a small luxury, but it is not. It allows visitors to stay in the exhibit hall longer as it allows for comfort on the feet and allows for less overall background noise in the hall. Over the years, our exhibitors have been so appreciative for carpet. You see, many venues do not offer carpet and make the exhibitors pay for it in their booth area.
Expectations – Did the event organization prepare you for this event? The print program, website and mobile app should set you up for a successful event before you even arrive. Is there a new attendee checklist? Is there a well marked information booth? But you, as an attendee need to read and prepare yourself. If you expect to get parking near the door for an event that serves thousands, then you better arrive two days early and never move your car! Setting expectations for attendees is key, but attendees need to do their job to educate themselves with what to expect.
Feedback – Is your organization listening to you? Are you listening to them? Feedback for annual events is paramount to growing an event. Ask how you can leave feedback for the event team. Leave constructive, helpful feedback. And writing your name down as a possible speaker is not feedback. Feedback forms are utilized to plan future conferences. Complaining about how far you had to park when arriving 4 hours after the event has started is not feedback that is helpful to the team. Give feedback that they can use. One year I got two children – it was obvious from the handwriting – that stated they did not like the vegetable choice that year during the children’s program. They offered a suggestion. We utilized their suggestion for the next year! So offer great feedback and give some suggestions.
Does the conference you attend each year honor speakers, volunteers and you? Let’s support the events that do an outstanding job!