You’ve probably never seen the words “listening,” “empathy,” or “trust building” listed anywhere on a job description or heard them in an annual review. They are the most valuable and needed skills in higher education, but they are also those we take most for granted.
Listening, empathy, and trust are important because all of us in higher ed are, fundamentally, public servants—that’s why we use the same word to describe the students and alumni who we serve that congress people and senators use to describe the people who elect them: constituent. Politicians need to be able to listen to, empathize with, and earn the trust of the public in order to be elected, and we need to do the same in order to do our best work.
If we don’t listen to the needs of our constituents, how can we design services or marketing campaigns for them? If we don’t empathize with them and understand how they feel about their alma mater, how can we be sure our work will meet them where they are? And if they don’t trust our institutions, will any of what we do actually make a difference?
We don’t think so. That’s why we started ListenUp EDU—a conference about empathy, listening, and trust in higher education.
The inspiration for ListenUp came from a chance conversation about what we do at our companies, Campus Sonar and Switchboard. It was the first time each of us had spoken with someone else in higher ed who said their work was focused on listening. Campus Sonar and Switchboard share an ethos of listening.
ListenUp was born out of the idea of listening cross-functionally for outcomes, leadership development, and networking—and the real need our two companies saw among our institutional clients and individual partners, many of whom are internal innovators in higher ed. The conference is a way to bring these innovative people together in a collaborative environment so we can all learn from one another.
We’re hosting ListenUp EDU 2019 in Portland, Oregon, April 17–18.
What to Expect This Year
ListenUp is a different kind of conference. First, you’re a participant, not an attendee. We know that the most useful part of conference sessions is usually the Q&A at the end when the presenter gets to interact with their audience, which is why we’ve ditched the talk-at-you presentation model and replaced it with interactive sessions where every minute is participatory and useful.
Second, the conference is interdisciplinary and cross-functional. That means you get to rub shoulders with and learn from colleagues in marketing, alumni relations, admissions, career services, student services, advancement, and other offices and at every level of responsibility.
Third, the conference is fun. No to drab hotel conference rooms with fluorescent lighting. Yes to bright, open, modern spaces, like this year’s venue, the EcoTrust building in Portland’s Pearl District.
Last year’s ListenUp was so successful that participants commented, “It was something so different, I didn’t know I needed it,” and “This was such a cool event, I don’t know if I want to tell you about it.”
The atmosphere was full of encouragement to think differently with creative, innovative people from all areas of campus. As a bonus, participants made intentional connections after the conference was over and came away with a community of supportive, like-minded colleagues.
ListenUp starts with lunch (we’re big on food and conversation, and it is in Portland) and activities to get to know each other. Our first evening is a series of lightning talks with a line-up of innovators from across the country. The night closes with a session on improv for higher ed professionals—there are many perspectives on listening rolled into the first day.
The next day the sessions split into three tracks:
- Attract for campus professionals in admissions, enrollment management, recruitment, marketing, communications, university relations, or advancement communications.
- Engage for those in student affairs, career services, alumni relations, fundraising, or advising.
- Vision for director-level roles or higher across campus, or those who are actively working to build their leadership skills.
Included throughout the day are introvert and email breaks so that attendees can decompress and continue discussions that start during sessions.
ListenUp closes with an interactive design challenge for the whole group about facilitating change in higher education. (And happy hour.)
Who Should Attend
This year’s attendees are a diverse group of people with all levels of industry experience. Everyone who participated in 2018 understood the importance of listening and wanted to learn more about how they could use it in their work. Participants also had a shared understanding of the importance of empathy and trust, as well as a desire for more discussion and collaboration around how institutions can provide infrastructure for change with limited resources.
Liz shared what a ListenUp participant looks and feels like in a recent Campus Sonar blog post. Often they are the only person in their organization working on a new idea or innovation. Attendees are big-idea people, addicted to learning, and interested in expanding their circles and meeting new people.
What You’ll Come Away With
A toolkit on how to create lasting change with limited resources.
A community of people who will encourage you and support you as you innovate on your own campus.
A deeper understanding of how to use listening, empathy, and trust building in your day-to-day work.