Saved By the Blog: Your Student Housing Conference Coverage

For those of you who missed the 2014 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition last week in Las Vegas, not to worry—we have your coverage. I mean, you should worry a little—you missed an amazing conference, including some very photogenic General Session speakers, amazing breakout sessions and the general shenanigans that come with Vegas—but you’ll just have to rely on me until you can register for next year’s conference.

While some of my co-workers were stranded back on the snow-ridden East Coast, I cozied up to Las Vegas’ 70-degree temps and kicked off 2014’s conference at the first round of breakout sessions on Monday, March 3, followed by an opening reception. Sure, my cohorts had an adult snow day, but I had NAA’s 75th Anniversary signature drink to sip on. Ingredients: World Class.

Attendees were up bright and early on Tuesday for a full day, starting with Aussie Peter Sheahan’s Opening General Session. Among Sheahan’s many kebabs of wisdom, he said, “Change is actually really slow, until it’s not. That sounds cliché, but it’s mathematical.” I’m horrible at math, so I’m just going to take his word for it. But according to Sheahan, Founder and CEO of ChangeLabs, you have to steadily prepare yourself and your company for the next big thing. The groundwork happens slowly, but the final sprint is often overnight. 

Sheahan also offered the following wisdom (read in the appropriate accent): “People who are good with a hammer think everything is a nail. Sometimes, you need a wrench.”

“The time to fix something is when it AIN’T broke. That’s when it’s easiest and you have money and momentum.” 

“For every sexy innovation, there was a whole bunch of unsexy stuff that had to happen first.”

There were many more, but those were some of my favorite sound bites from Sheahan’s engaging and entertaining Opening General Session.

In between sessions, attendees headed to the tradeshow floor to meet with NAA’s amazing service partners. Those who participated in the NAA Exhibitor Passport Program were entered into several prize drawings, with a few lucky winners receiving everything from a Fibit to an iPad Air and $200 in poker chips (translation: 10 minutes at the casino).

With 14 breakout sessions and only two legs, I couldn’t get to everything I wanted, but managed to attend two technology/social media-focused breakouts. Highlights were learning that a brand should be personal, trustworthy, vulnerable, relevant and unique; we all suffer from the Malkovich Bias (the tendency to believe everyone uses the Web like we do); students prefer clean, simple websites to those that are flashy and busy; and the fastest-growing age demographic on Twitter is women aged 55-64. 

This, fortunately, does not include my mother.

I also had the opportunity to check out two of NAA’s new UNSESSIONS—moderated discussions where attendees learned first-hand what best practices their peers used and asked questions for immediate crowd-sourced solutions to topics ranging from international students to unexpected onsite emergencies. It was a “safe space,” as they say, and everyone was very engaged in the group brainstorming and discussion sessions.

Tuesday came to a close with the always-popular General Session “2014 Exchange & Engage: Executives, Meet Your Customers.” The executive panel—a who’s who of talent and expertise in the student housing industry—discussed their thoughts on new amenities (bowling alleys?!), the benefits and challenges of housing international students, and communicating with a Millennial generation that has been raised on technology. As one COO panelist said, “Don’t just look at student housing residents as entitled kids who want, want, want. They may be entitled, but they’re paying customers.”

Seth Mattison echoed that sentiment when he closed the conference with Wednesday’s Keynote Luncheon address. The Founder and Chief Movement Officer of FutureSight Labs said every generation has its own unique story. The challenge—and goal—is to get the generations to meet in the middle and work together in a way that plays to everyone’s unique strengths. 

Of course this is easier said than done. According to Mattison, most Baby Boomers bought into a plan when they started working: Come early, stay late, work your tail off, don’t ask questions. Gen X’ers were the least-parented generation, growing up on their MTV. Everyone from that generation remembers Jenny’s number (867-5309) but they can’t remember their own kids’ numbers. It’s more than I can say for my Milliennial Generation—we don’t know anyone’s number, our own included.

Bottom line: Each generation is a beautiful, unique snowflake and we need to learn how to form a cohesive snowball. Or something like that.

I could go on, but I’ll leave you for now. You’ll just have to come to the 2015 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas to see for yourself! In the meantime, check out the April issue of units Magazine for more coverage and pictures, and purchase NAAEI’s REWIND program—14 PowerPoint-synced audio sessions from the conference—for just $149.

Lauren Boston is NAA’s Staff Writer and Manager of Public Relations. Unsurprisingly, she writes a lot—most often for units Magazine and as a weekly blogger for APTly Spoken. She enjoys making people laugh, sharing embarrassing childhood stories and being the (self-proclaimed) Voice of the Apartment Industry. She welcomes feedback, unless it’s negative (in which case, please keep it to yourself).