Management & Professional Development

Implementing Inspiration: What Happens After HighEdWeb – A Look at How Attendees Put Ideas into Action

We learn so much at Higher Education Web Professional’s annual conference and come away with so many incredible ideas—but what happens after we get home? At HighEdWeb, you often hear people talk about searching for their “one thing” – a golden nugget, a key takeaway. Of course, you can return to work with plenty of inspiration, but there’s always that one stand-out solution that tops the post-conference to-do list.

I talked to a few past attendees—from 2016 and prior—about their HighEdWeb success stories—what their ah-a! moments were, how they shared ideas with their teams and superiors, and the subsequent results. Whether an exciting marketing campaign idea or a new, more effective internal process, these conference attendees put their newfound ideas into action.

When Slacking is OK: Building Better Internal Communications

Mike Richwalsky, then executive director for marketing and creative services at John Carroll University in Ohio, had heard about Slack, a communication tool that was, at the time, gaining popularity. But he left Lacy Paschal’s 2015 session “Slacking Off at Work” convinced it was something he had to try.

He explained that he’d been to sessions that focused a specific tool filling a specific need at a specific institution, so he appreciated Paschal’s broader approach.

“Lacy gave a great talk and made it about the tool. I think that’s why it clicked so much for me,” he said. “It wasn’t about finding a tool to fix a problem, it was about how a tool could radically re-imagine office communication.” Richwalsky headed back to campus “in that post-conference glow, the one where you want to immediately implement all the awesome stuff you just spent a week seeing your colleagues and friends doing.”

When he first tried to explain Slack to his team, they looked at him “with incredulity.” They, like so many in higher ed, had relied on IM and email for inter-office communication, so learning a new tool was not immediately appealing. Richwalsky decided to take it slow; he started using Slack with just one other person, on one channel, and then added people over time.After about a month, everyone on his creative services team was on board. Ancillary team members, such as a part-time designer who worked from home and a UK-based contractor also found the tool helpful—and quicker than email or IM.

While the University was using Basecamp, a project management tool, for a $100 million capital campaign, he explained that Slack was their “boots-on-the-ground tool.” He said gave them the ability to get and give real-time feedback (such as for signage), and its mobile nature allowed them to stay connected during busy events. “I was always in touch with the group, even if I was working with the AV company setting up a massive tent on our quad,” he said, giving an example of the day-of logistics.

Now, as of mid-2017, the team is a year and a half into using Slack as a daily tool. He says the team uses it to ask questions to the group, share ideas, designs, get feedback and more.

“It’s also proven to be a great direct messaging tool and a way for them to reach me with one-on-one questions that didn’t need covered in our main department channel,” he said, adding that Slack adds some office fun. “We also share a very large number of animated GIFs. I mean a ridiculous amount.”

Richwalksy is now a digital marketing manager at Q-Lab Corporation and a partner at Gas Mark 8 Ltd., a web consultancy for higher education and nonprofits. But, Slack endures at John Carroll. “The fact I’m not there and they’re still using it without my pushing them is proof they’ve bought into Slack’s power and brand promise,” he said.

A Little Help from My Friends … to Help My Other Friends: Streamlined User Training

When Meaghan Milliorn Fikes, online marketing manager at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, read Shelley Keith’s 2016 presentation description for “We Don’t Need No Education: Web Governance Through On-Demand Online Training,” she knew she had to attend. Training campus web users had become one of Fikes’ duties and, while she knew she wanted to create a self-service option, she didn’t have a plan or strategy just yet.

“[My] ‘A-ha! Moment’ was when she showed us all the tutorials and quizzes and online videos she had created for her university,” she said. “It was, like, ‘YES!’ Finally, I had something tangible I could use to get us started.”

When Fikes returned to her campus and shared this idea, she said was fortunate to get the green light right away.

“Having a tutorial system that people can use themselves will take a lot of work off my plate, so the associate director fully supported making our process more efficient,” she said. Since the conference in October, Fikes has created a suite of training materials, including video tutorials based on her users’ frequently-asked questions. While she was still working on the training materials, she shared one, about a page-specific widget, with a user—a guinea pig of sorts. The feedback? Extremely helpful.

Fikes’ said the best part about Keith, as a speaker, is her willingness to help and share resources.

“Shelley knows we’re all in this together. We’re all trying to make the web a better place for our students and other users,” she said, adding that she also appreciated Keith being available to answer questions by email, long after the final day of the conference.

Unclogging the Inbox: Improving Personal Productivity

Email is not:

  • A telephone
  • Instant messenger
  • A project management system
  • The boss of you

That was the gist of a slide from Dave Cameron’s 2014 talk “Human at Work or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Get Better at My Job”—and also Jon-Stephen Stansel’s A-ha! Moment. At the time, Stansel was overwhelmed by his inbox.

“I was terrified that if I shut my email down for an hour, I’d miss something urgent,” he explained, adding that he felt he had to use email for those very tools Cameron mentioned because “everyone else on campus does.”

That Cameron did not bow down to email inspired Stansel, who then was the international communications manager at University of Central Arkansas.

“His presentation gave me permission to use email in a manner that works for me. I turned push notifications off my phone immediately after his presentation, and I haven’t turned them back on since,” he said.

Stansel also upped his organization game after Cameron’s presentation.

“Dave introduced me to the concept of ‘Mise en place,’ the technique that chefs use to prepare for their work day,” he said, adding that he now takes 15 minutes to prepare his workspace for the following day. “I coil the cable on my headphones, put my pens and notebooks in their proper drawers, clean out my email inbox, and declutter by digital desktop as well.”

He tops this process off with the swipe of a disinfecting wipe across his desk: “This signals to my brain the workday is over.”

Mapping His Future: Mastering Data and Improving Workflow

Cameron was inspiration to Stansel, but he also left HighEdWeb inspired himself.

“What makes a presentation succeed for me is when [the speaker] takes something complicated and makes it easy,” he said, adding that two presenters left an especially lasting impact on him through a combination of sessions and workshops over the years.

Cameron, who handles recruitment content at Ithaca College, says he may informally share highlights with his team when he returned from HighEdWeb, but, generally, he likes to take some time to reflect on what he’s learned.

“…after such an intense few days, so much going on in your head, it takes a while for things to distill down and settle,” he said, adding that, at conferences, he captures what he can in the moment—and then saves it. “You never know when you’re going to need something out of it; when it’s still relevant and useful.”

For instance, while Aaron Knight’s “Fix all the Map Data” presentation was in 2014, Cameron is now tackling a map project of his own and is referring to his notes.

“It seems like a big complicated thing—when you look at a map and see all these layers of information and meta tags and relationships,” he explained, adding that Aaron used first-hand examples and broke down into achievable nuggets how others could do the same. “You can walk out and say, ‘Oh, I really can do this!’ And it can be done over time, in your own way.”

Cameron says that Olsen, through various sessions related to workflow and UX, helped him understand—and then later convey to his team—how developers and content strategists can and should partner. He’s often shared a brilliant graphic from one of Olsen’s presentations—either the image itself or a by sketching it from memory—at meetings, an image that helps illustrate these common goals and interests.

He added that, even years later, HighEdWeb presenters are available to help: “The more we share and the more we learn, we’re raising our work to a higher level for everyone.”

Falling in Love with an Idea: Celebrating Alumni Engagement (literally?!)

Allison Lambert, a marketing officer for alumni relations at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, made a connection with a social media presentation by yours truly*.

At the time, Lambert was new to her position, so at HighEdWeb 2012 in Austin, she was looking for some cool ideas to bring back to the team to help show that they made the right decision in hiring her.

“The ‘We Met at E-town’ idea was absolutely perfect,” she said, citing an example used within a larger presentation called No Such Thing as TMI: How to Create a Culture of Sharing. “My ‘A-ha! Moment’ was more of a, ‘Wow, she’s presenting a fantastic event that is completely doable and engaging.’”

Lambert came back to the office and pondered the idea a bit—she was still figuring out her new job. She also says she needed to present the ‘We Met At’ idea as one that was easy to implement, with little to no budget.

“After I had that all squared away, I presented my proposal, and the team was really excited,” she said.

Lambert said she ran the “We Fell in Love at SFU” campaign twice. The first time around, in 2013, she wasn’t sure what to expect, but they ended with 27 stories, collected through various campaigns. Once posted to a Facebook album, she shared through multiple channels; the likes, comments, and shares poured in.

“We were able to reconnect with some amazing alumni that we thought we had lost touch with,” she explains, adding that it included some charter alumni who met the year the school opened, in 1965.

Lambert says the second time around—this past February—she was blessed with more useful social platforms to help gather and share stories. This led to 40 “We Fell in Love at SFU” stories—a 30 percent increase. Engagement was higher as well. People commented and reconnected within individual stories. Alumni emailed her to tell her what a great idea this was.

“We even had a gentleman joke that he fell in love any times, but none of them stuck,” she said. “People were inspired by the stories. It gave everyone the warm and fuzzies.”


Investing in professional development pays off—it’s evident in the stories shared here. It’s easy to fill many pages with conference notes—scribbles, stats, reminders, book suggestions. But think about it. One of those ideas you jot down in your notebook—maybe one that you doodle a little star next to—could very well end up positively impacting your campus, your students, your community.

What was YOUR favorite HighEdWeb takeway? Share in the comments.


*Author’s Note: When I put out a call on Twitter—using the conference hashtag, of course—I didn’t expect a reply that included an idea I had shared; I thought it might be a conflict of interest, but, in the end, I didn’t want to NOT include her input.

IMAGE: Flickr Creative Commons/Phil Thomas

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By Donna Talarico

Donna Talarico, a Red-Stapler-winning HighEdWeb presenter and volunteer editor for Link, is an independent writer and content strategist. She is the marketing columnist for Wiley's Recruiting and Retaining Adult Learners, and her work has also been published in CASE Currents, The Guardian Higher Education Network, and elsewhere. From 2010 to 2015, she told the Elizabethtown College story as part of an award-winning marketing and communications team. Always a storyteller, before higher ed she worked in print and broadcast media, and for a leading eCommerce company. She is the founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine, a bimonthly creative nonfiction journal and small press. She loves road trips, board games, greasy spoon diners, and words.