This year was the third year I attended Boston Sings, Boston’s only a cappella festival. It’s a 3-day event that includes a collegiate competition, a buttload of workshops about how to arrange for a cappella and lead your group, an awesome award ceremony called the CARAs, and a few shows with big-name a cappella celebrities. It’s the most exciting a cappella event in Boston, and it happens every April.
Every year, there are new classes and new groups to see. It’s like any business conference — it lasts over the course of a few days and it’s a great networking opportunity — but with live shows and improv classes.
This year, I attended BOSS with a few old friends from my college group and a few new friends from my current group. As someone who now has over 5 years experience leading a cappella groups (what?!), I still find I can learn a lot from BOSS, whether about new recording techniques or different ways to do vocal percussion. I’m never going to learn everything there is to learn about a cappella.
And that’s why I decided to spend $75 on this event… I’m spending money on an experience, not a thing, and I’m concentrating on learning valuable lessons from it.
I’ve found that I get the most out of these types of events if I do these three things:
Bring the necessities.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a business conference, but there’s nothing worse than noticing that your iPod is dead after tweeting the hashtag all day, so now you can’t open the Notes app to type out an awesome quote or someone’s name. Before I left the house for BOSS, I made sure that in my purse I had:
With all these things in your arsenal, you’ll definitely be less stressed popping from workshop to workshop, class to class.
Know where you’re heading.
A lot of conferences like BOSS have an app with a map (heehee) of where classes and concerts are. BOSS even allowed you to subscribe to text message updates, and they sent important details over email as well.
A great example of this is HubSpot’s INBOUND. Their app was custom-made for the event, and was yet another place — besides the #Inbound14 hashtag — where people could share their excitement for the event. Important scheduling changes showed up as push notifications on your phone. Since we were at the Boston Convention Center, a very big venue, I really would not have known where to go for classes without the app.
If you don’t have an iPhone (I just have an iPod), you need to be prepared. This year, I wrote down all the classes I wanted to go to and their respective locations.
Share your experiences.
The first year I went to BOSS, I was a sophomore in college, having just been thrust into the role of Music Director. The way our group was set up, the Music Director (affectionately labeled the Pitch Pipe), would lead rehearsals from start to finish. There may be a few announcements from the President and Business Manager, but otherwise, the onus was all on the Music Director to get everyone up to speed.
This was a lot of pressure at first. Luckily, the group was very supportive, and everyone offered their advice for leading, which I took to heart. By my senior year, I led The Blend to perform in the ICCA’s, the International Collegiate Competition for A Cappella, for the first time. We didn’t place, but we felt pretty damn proud of ourselves for making it there.
I remember the first year I was at BOSS, I took a class with Amanda Cornaglia and Charlie Friday of Euphonism about fundamentals for leading your group. They offered ideas about how to get the “clowns” in your group to spend more time singing, and how to get the group in general to focus. At the end of the class, they asked if anyone had any questions. I took the opportunity to tell them my situation, and they gave me very specific advice. I frantically wrote it down and still have it to this day.
Remind them you may not run things the same way.
Don’t open for comments.
Incorporate songs into warm-ups.
Don’t ridicule, but recognize that you may need to point out specific people.
You need to be 3 steps ahead of the group.
Remember the compliment sandwich — good, bad, good — when giving feedback.
It’s FEEDBACK, not criticism.
So my advice to you would be to ask questions about how you can apply your instructor’s teachings to your situation — whether that be as a marketer looking at business analytics, or as a music director looking to arrange for your group’s voices.
How Do You Make The Most of Conferences?
I know there is so much more to say on the subject of business conferences. I didn’t even mention business cards!
However, these were the tips that helped me the most at BOSS, and last year, at HubSpot’s INBOUND. Networking and handing out business cards are obvious tips, but I don’t want to be obvious. I want to give you advice that will help you get the most out of your experience, and I don’t necessarily think handing out business cards (no matter how cool they are!) will really help you learn.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Did you go to any conferences in the past year? Did I see you at BOSS? How did you make the most of the experience?