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ListenUp EDU: A Cross-Functional Higher Ed Conference for Innovators and Change Makers

You made it to February. Congratulations. January feels like it lasted for years! Hopefully your new-year-optimism is still running strong, but by April I bet you’re going to need a strong dose of inspiration, motivation, and perhaps a few new professional connections. Good news—ListenUp EDU is April 17 and 18 in Portland, OR. You should probably consider being there. As one 2018 attendee said, “It’s the future of higher ed conferences.” Let me tell you about the future!

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What Is ListenUp About?   

ListenUp is about ideas that drive change and the people who make it happen. We believe that effective change—whether that’s improved programs and services, more engaged alumni, increased retention, or better marketing and communication outcomes—is rooted in listening. Listening to our students, our staff, the community, and each other. Listening takes many forms: data analysis, meaningful audience engagement, or hands-on problem solving. When members of your community feel listened to, invested in, and served by your institution, they’ll trust you, volunteer, and donate. Without their trust, our institutions can't survive. This conference brings together student affairs, marketing and communications, alumni engagement, and advancement professionals from across the country to explore how a culture of listening, service, and trust-building can make us better at what we do.

One of our 2018 attendees said, “ListenUp is a space to solve problems, learn to ask better questions, and take the time to do hard work well." Another said it is "very interactive and creative. Aimed at changing how you work and think about work vs. coming home with a one new big idea."

How Is ListenUp Different from Other Conferences? 

We’re different, alright. Let me count the ways.

  • No hotel conference centers. We want our space to set the tone for our time together. Whatever you’re expecting, it probably won’t be that. Check out the video from last year to see what I mean, although our Portland location brings us to a new space this year.
  • No hour-long lectures. Every single session is interactive, allowing you to put your learning into practice right away. No speaker will talk for more than 15-20 minutes. You should leave each session with not just an action plan, but some new professional connections. We’re about people, not PowerPoint.
  • We’re intentionally small. This conference works really well with about 75 people. If more of you want to come, that’s great, but we’re putting a hard cap at 150. Our goal is for every person at ListenUp to have a chance to interact with anyone there—including the speakers.
  • The people are as important as the content. Sure, our speaker list is impressive; but wait until you see our attendees. They have the most amazing brains, and they’re good people to boot. Honestly, one of the reasons we created this conference was to have an excuse to get some of the smartest minds in higher education in one space for a few days. If you want quality time with some Sonarians, you’ll get that, too.
  • You’ll hear a variety of perspectives. Our higher education speakers include student affairs, marketing, faculty, advising, alumni relations, career development, and founders of campus partners. Outside the industry, we’re bringing in voices from K12, healthcare, journalism, and maybe a few other surprises. I’m also excited to feature a student on our agenda.
  • The food is good. Seriously, we know this matters. Last year was all about the bars—taco bar, breakfast bar, sweet and salty snack bar, salad bar … oh, and yes, an open bar.
  • We build in time for you to check in with the office. No one wants to miss a session to jump on a call or check email, but it always happens, doesn’t it? We’ve built that time into the schedule. If you don’t need to check in, consider it an introvert break. Or for you extroverts, a chance to meet even more people.
  • We’re focused on action. We’ll co-create some things during the conference, and share them with you afterwards. We’ll also share everyone’s contact information and, in the event that you didn’t get to meet someone you really wanted to, we’ll find someone to facilitate the introduction.

Who Is ListenUp For?

Our conference is not focused on a particular functional area, although it is focused on higher education. I prefer to think of the type of person who would find value at ListenUp. Our attendees are forward-thinking, creative, self-motivated, life-long learners. They often see things a little differently than their “traditional” peers. They may be the only person in their organization working on a new program, intervention, or strategy. They work in all levels of the organization, and may be on- or off-campus. What they have in common is a commitment to sustainable higher education systems and institutions to improve the world.

That being said, sometimes you need to show your boss or CFO that a conference is aligned with your functional area. We've divided our content into three tracks. You’re welcome to jump between tracks or focus on just one.

  • Attract: How can listening help you better attract attention? This track is helpful for campus professionals in admissions, enrollment management, recruitment, marketing, communications, university relations, or advancement communications.
  • Engage: How can listening help you have more purposeful, informed interactions with students, alumni, donors, and other constituents? This track is helpful for those in student affairs, career services, alumni relations, fundraising, or advising.
  • Vision: How can listening make you a better leader? This track is helpful for those in director level roles or higher across campus, or who are actively working to build their leadership skills.

ListenUp is not just for campus-based professionals (although we expect that will be the majority of the group). ListenUp is focused on learning, relationship-building, and inspiring innovation. We do not have an exhibit hall or accept unsolicited sponsorships. We believe in an inclusive definition of “higher education professionals,” including off-campus industry partners. If you work off-campus and want to attend, great! We ask that all attendees respect the environment we’ve envisioned; do not treat ListenUp as a sales or recruitment opportunity. Come willing to learn and share knowledge with an incredible community.

Register by March 1 for Early-Bird Pricing

ListenUp EDUThe early-bird rate is $595, and includes two days of programming, four meals (plus snacks), and post-event access to resources created at the event. If two or more people from your organization attend, you’ll receive $150 off each registration.

If you have any questions about what we’re trying to create with ListenUp, please reach out to me. If you want to know what some of last year’s attendees thought, feel free to browse through their tweets below. Apologies in advance if it creates a bit of FOMO.

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Liz Gross

Liz Gross is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. A recognized expert, data-driven marketer, and higher education researcher, Liz specializes in creating entrepreneurial social media strategies in higher education. She is an award-winning speaker, author, and strategist who was named a 2018 Mover and Shaker by Social Shake-Up Show and a finalist on GreenBook’s 2019 GRIT Future List. Liz has more than 15 years’ experience in higher ed and strategic social listening programs. She received a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University, a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University, and a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

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