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The 34th RNL National Conference That Was the First of Its Kind

Julie Bryant

Associate Vice President of Retention Solutions

July 16, 2020

The 34th Annual RNL National Conference was truly like no other conference we have held before. This year’s event was completely virtual and while we couldn’t replicate all of our favorite aspects of the in-person conference experience, it was still an excellent experience overall and the quality of the content definitely matched the conferences of the past.

I have had the opportunity and privilege to participate in each of the past 25 RNL National Conferences, going all the way back to 1995. I have traveled multiple times over the years to our conference sites in Washington, DC, New Orleans, Denver, and Chicago (where we were supposed to gather this year) and to other great locations across the country. This year, I sat in the relative comfort of my own home office and logged into the virtual conference on my screen. The welcome email confirmed that we could dress as casual as we wanted for this year. (Yes, I wore pants, but I will share that I was barefoot the entire time and as an added benefit, I didn’t get blisters for the first time from walking long distances at the conference site!)

The virtual environment of the 2020 RNL National Conference.

As we have had in recent years, it was amazing to have more than 1,400 people registered for this year’s conference. It was great to see so many people from the same institutions on the registration list. One client shared with me that they were able to have a larger team participate since there were no travel costs. It is exciting that more people were able to hear the presentations first hand. The conference attendees were active in the chat sites and logged into the content when the sessions went live throughout the day on July 8 and July 9.

The presentations will continue to be available for a full 12 months going forward for anyone who wants to revisit a session or attend another session that they didn’t watch initially. (We have come a long way from the days when attendees ran from session room to session room picking up hard copy handouts of the PowerPoints so they could gather as much knowledge as possible!) What I especially liked about the virtual RNL National Conference is that it still felt like an RNL event. We have always prided ourselves in offering an event with high-quality keynotes (check), excellent breakouts with some RNL and some client institution sessions (check), entertainment and a chance to laugh (check), an opportunity to take care of ourselves (check) and the flavor of the city we are in (check).

The only thing missing this year that we are known for is the excellent food at the receptions and breaks (my kitchen didn’t cut it when it came to providing my own snacks!). But RNL did send swag boxes to most attendees that included a taste of the Windy City. The lobby, auditorium, the breakouts, the networking lounge and the trade show area all featured Chicago motifs and the entertainment this year included Katie Kadan, a Chicago native who was a finalist on The Voice, and a live Zoom House Party with the famed Second City comedy troop.

RNL provided resources for daily meditation and yoga sessions to get everyone in the right mindset and to keep our bodies from getting too stiff from sitting all day. The keynote session on Wednesday by Liz Murray (author of From Homeless to Harvard) was inspiring and motivating. Her emotional story resonated even when we weren’t in the same room together. Thursday’s keynote by Dr. Shirley Davis challenged us to realize that we can have diversity on our campuses and in our workplaces without having inclusion, so we need to do better. Even though the keynotes and the breakout sessions were recorded in advance of the conference, they felt live with the start times and with the interactive chat taking place throughout. And while we couldn’t see the faces of the audience, we still knew they were engaged and excited about the ideas being shared.

So while I missed the time to be with colleagues and clients face to face in Chicago, I came away from the two-day conference experience feeling inspired and motivated. I also gained several new ideas from the sessions, and I had a chance to follow up with clients to provide requested resources. I have good memories of the laughter from the Second City performance and a few fun IM chats with others at the conference. I gained the benefits from the morning meditations that were offered.

Liz Murray shared this definition of gratitude that she attributed to her friend Travis Montez: “Gratitude is knowing every single thing you have, you could just as easily not have“. Overall, it was an incredible conference experience, making the best of the current situation we are all in. I am grateful for all that we had access to during the 34th Annual RNL National Conference and I know that there will be so much more that I will not take for granted when we gather together in person (fingers crossed) in National Harbor, Maryland on July 7-9, 2021. And if for some reason, we are virtual again, I know that the content and the experience will still be first-rate.

RNL National Conference On-Demand

Want to re-watch a session that you attended or maybe missed? Presentations will continue to be available for a full 12 months after the conference.

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About the Author

Julie Bryant of RNL

Julie L. Bryant, associate vice president of retention solutions at Ruffalo Noel Levitz, works directly with colleges and universities throughout North America in the area of satisfaction assessment. Ms Bryant is responsible for client service...

Read more about Julie's experience and expertise

Reach Julie by e-mail at Julie.Bryant@RuffaloNL.com.


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