When I am organising the meetings for the Oxfordshire and Berkshire Business Managers Groups, I agonise over speakers and subjects. It is so important that the sessions are as relevant as possible and that the speakers are engaging and relevant. I know just how precious your time is and I never take that for granted. I also know that if these sessions are not up to expectations, then you will vote with your feet.
However, what I have come to realise over the years is that the “formal” sessions are often secondary to the opportunity that these meetings give you to meet, share information and learn from each other.
We recently ran the Oxfordshire Academies Business Managers’ Conference after a break of 3 years. We just managed to get our 2020 Conference in a week before the whole country went into lockdown. This coming together was well overdue.
There are so many variables in an event like this – the worst being a pandemic and the smallest being an exhibitor forgetting an extension lead. However, what is a constant – and a constant joy – are the participants. As people trickle through the door, grab their lanyards and their delegate bags, there is almost a feeling of relief when people greet colleagues they have not seen for over a year – or perhaps longer.
The power of these events is not just the opportunity to bring people together but also the networking time that it gives all our members. The strength of the networks comes from people who genuinely want the best for each other, support each other and work proactively together. This is so evident every time we meet.
There are a few things that I have learnt over the years that I have been running these networks, meetings and Conferences that I would like to share with you – just in case you are thinking of setting up a network or of joining one:
- Make sure you order a really good lunch and posh chocolate biscuits because the lunch and coffee breaks are very important. Perhaps the most important part of any meeting is the networking time. School Business Professionals often work in isolation so having the time to talk with your peers and share your views and ideas is invaluable.
- Presentations from peers can be more valuable than presentations from external speakers because you are sharing real and learned experiences. Members of our groups have led presentations and discussions on budget planning, TA recruitment, MAT restructuring and environmental policy – to name but a few.
- No question is stupid or irrelevant – if you are thinking it then the chances are someone else is as well. People are always happy to share, to listen and to learn.
- Pick your speakers wisely – because they can be expensive. It is always a good idea to get expert views but these should be used sparingly and make sure you use people who are well regarded or come from recognised organisations. Ask leaders from other networks for their views and recommendations. A good speaker is well worth the money. Being part of a wider group gives you more leverage. Experts are more likely to turn up if they know they will be addressing a larger number of people.
- Covid has taught us we do not need to be in the same room – but it is preferable. Face to face is always better but there are some times of the year when it is just not possible. Meeting on line affords tremendous flexibility for quick one-off meetings. Also, it is a life saver if you want a speaker to attend but they live at the other end of the country. You can beam them into a meeting without paying for eye watering travel expenses.
- Write minutes – but do they do not need to be War and Peace. Keep them short and succinct but relevant.
- It is OK to charge to be a member – the networks I work with choose the membership fee but all agree that we should charge, even a nominal amount. It means that if we have to book a speaker or a venue then we have the money to do so. We can pay to engage someone to organise the meeting which takes the pressure off the members; they can just turn up and benefit from the sessions.
- Make sure you have an on-line forum – a network is for the year not just for the meetings. An on-line forum means that your members can post questions, share useful information and start discussions on line and in one place. Agendas, minutes and slide presentations can all be filed in one place that is accessible to everyone. There will be a cost associated with this but it is very small and is more than covered by the membership fee.
For further information on the Oxfordshire Academies School Business Managers Group, the Berkshire Schools Business Managers Group or if you just want to find out more about how to set up your own network contact email@example.com.