The Conference Experience

Since winning the CIH and Inside Housing Rising Stars award last year I’ve had the awesome opportunity of attending and speaking at housing conferences all over the country. I have learnt the ways of the ‘unconference’ as well as drawing on my past experience of attending previous regional conferences organised by CIH.
With my new career working for CIH kicking off this week I’ve had even more of insight into the world of events and conferences, and with the CIH South East Conference coming up at the beginning of March, it’s made me think about what housing professionals and housing organisations gain as a result of attending them.
My own experience of conferences started in Torquay at the CIH South West Conference nine or so years ago. I remember the first day sharing a taxi with a chap from the hotel to the conference centre, chatting away with him like we were friends. He asked me what I did; I said that I was a housing officer. I asked him the same question – “I’m a CEO” he replied. I instantly panicked (I was only 22 at the time), but he quickly assured me that the title shouldn’t be intimidating – respected obviously – but not something I should be terrified of. At that age and at that stage of my career, being able to chat to a friendly person with that amount of experience and knowledge was completely eye opening.
Anyone knows that a huge benefit of attending the CIH conferences is the networking opportunities. It is not often that we get the opportunity to build new relationships with other professionals so instantly. For the regional conferences, this networking is so beneficial for organisations operating in the same or similar areas. It’s an opportunity to learn from each other and work together on issues that may be specific to that region.
For delegates starting their careers in housing, it’s a great way to meet leaders in the sector and to see them as normal people, just with a lot more experience! In my experience, they are normally more than happy to chat to you about their careers and interests, and are a font of knowledge when it comes to career development in the sector.
For those organisations that are exhibiting or sponsoring, not only is it an incredible way to raise your profile to your target audience, but to show off the great things you do. This in turn can open the doors to potential new business.
I’m particularly looking forward to the CIH South East conference in March this year (and not only because I love Brighton!). It’s effectively three conferences in one this year, with the home ownership and leasehold management, and the big conversation combined.
I’ve always been fascinated by the housing challenges faced in London, so for me, this is going to be a great opportunity to talk to professionals working in the sector in London.
I’ve always gained a lot from attending the sessions in the past, but with the unique challenges that the sector is facing currently I am particularly looking forward the sessions on Brexit and the homelessness discussions. I think it’s a crucial time for the sector to work together and learn from each other, and conferences give us a unique opportunity to do this.
I wanted to specifically mention ‘the big conversation’ element of the conference, because my view is that a lot of people don’t know what it is. I’ve blogged previously about my experience of Housing Camp Cymru, which was my first experience of an unconference, and ‘the big conversation’ runs along similar lines. It’s a more relaxed way of sharing knowledge and experiences and means that you have more choice as a delegate to discuss the subjects that are important to you.

I will always remember the feeling of utter confusion over such a thing, and until you do it, it’s hard to appreciate the massive value attending can have. You learn a lot, and there are always discussions on innovation in sector, which may sometimes be missing from more structured conference sessions. I also learned that some housing providers use drones. Seriously.
So, if you are attending I shall see you there; if not then you really should go – you won’t regret it!

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