Oct. 14, 2021
Toire Vince, DES, PCA
NACA Experience & Events Director
When NACA® Live ended in February 2020, we were riding a huge adrenaline wave after spending years working on a reimagined convention experience. NACA® Live by all accounts was a successful event and we implemented a lot of change which was long overdue. Some things worked and some didn't, but we were looking forward to continuing to tweak the event experience in the coming year. Then a week later, boom…COVID-19 hit. It's taken 19 months, but this past weekend we were finally back in-person in Winston-Salem, NC.
Planning an in-person conference with COVID-19 health and safety measures in place has certainly been challenging to say the least. We have had to balance the safety of our attendees with the need to bring together our school and associate members to create meaningful business connections. The feedback we received from attendees on-site and post-event shows that just as colleges can resume on campus, we can also meet safely without impacting the ability for our members to connect with each other.
"As with all things post-COVID, conferences of all types have needed to adjust to meet the real-time needs of their attendees by creating an environment that not only promotes business and interaction, but also the health and safety of their attendees. I wanted to let you all know that you succeeded at both this weekend in Winston-Salem. Kudos to you all for your work in bringing us all together again!"
- Craig Heitkamp, President, The College Agency
COVID-19 has shaped not only how we meet at conferences, but how higher education engages with its student body. When planning our fall events, we knew that showcases needed to reflect current booking trends to provide clear return on investment to all of our attendees. NACA used data provided this spring by our school members to rework the showcase experience onsite, adding new themed showcases that focus on attendee interaction. Game-A-Palooza and Trending Interactive Programs allow associate members to showcase longer programs that can be brought to campus both virtually and in-person. The Closing Celebration combines both staged showcase and floor performances to mimic campus programming during Family Weekend or Homecoming. In addition, we added a catwalk to the traditional conference stage to push the thrust out into the audience and allow for a more intimate environment.
Our educational session blocks hosted new Featured Workshops each day for our school members with topics on mental health, leadership and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Associate members also had the opportunity to participate in sessions geared specifically towards them, to help them navigate the culture of higher ed and to hear directly from school member panels.
"Even given the COVID concerns, I think you all did everything you could to keep the students, staff and associates as safe as possible. I didn't feel concerned with the room size or the amount of people in Showcase or Marketplace. The students loved the educational sessions and wished they could have attended all of them. I know you had to change some things up and change is hard for many that have done it a certain way for years and years, but I have to applaud you and the South Team (which is not what they're called…I know this!!) as all the changes I saw were positive and beneficial to the experience."
- Berrie Cross, Guilford Technical Community College (NC)
The Campus Activities Marketplace was set up to allow physical distancing between booths. We also offered extended soft open times to provide an opportunity for attendees to come in at a quieter time when it is less crowded. Even with these measures in place, we were still able to provide a place where school members could meet one on one with associate members to learn more about the services provided.
"The NACA Conference was one to remember! As a third-time attendee (in Atlanta and Chattanooga), I was impressed by the various headliners and interactive events showcased. I was also impressed by some of the ed sessions. Saturday's sessions had a lot of great info that my team enjoyed thoroughly and will take back to our school!
- KenAndre Smiley, President of the Student Activities Board, Jaguar Productions, University of South Alabama
Looking back over the weekend, we can see that just like at NACA® Live in Denver in February 2020, some things worked well and as always, some can use improvement. Based on attendee feedback, both anecdotally and through early survey results, we can safely call our comeback event a success. We are excited to host more in person conferences this fall and to continue bringing to life our mission and vision through the event experience. Live events are just one of the many things that we do, and they are back and better than ever!
Toire Vince is the Experience & Events director for the National Association for Campus Activities.