16 Student Development Strategies

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Help us fill in the blank: most training and lectures ______.

We're thinking you answered: boring, irrelevant, not compelling, too expensive, or suck. 


Face it: most podium speakers are boring and most lectures suck. And motivational speakers aren't motivational. You know it's true and so do we. Over the past new student orientation season, our team presented before and after many other speakers—speakers who showed up late, didn't know how to use their technology, and even one that went 35 minutes over time. OMG, please stop agreeing to put your students through this.

If you ask the wrong question on the internet, you'll get a million and one wrong answers. The content is out there and most of the time it's free! Your student have access to all the content they need all the time...right from their smartphone. Since 2007, the world is different, and so your learning experiences need to be different.

You can't just bring in a content expert anymore. You can't just bring in the author of the book. You can't just dump information on the screen and read it to them. That's all available on the smartphone. You need to create a meaningful and memorable experience for your students... and we're here to continue helping you do just that.

Since 1995, we’ve been home to a series of national best-selling educational productions perfect for the first-year experience and student leadership development focused on What Every College Student Needs to Know®️. We co-create and facilitate high-energy, interactive, engaging, and fun seminars, retreats, and conferences with content that you need to know, delivered in a context you can relate to, at a price your campus can afford.

Do we get it wrong sometimes? Of course. That's why if your students don’t like it, your school doesn’t pay for it! It’s money-back guaranteed. We learn from our 23 years of experience, and here's some things we've picked up...

As you develop programs and training events for your students, here are 16 things you should do to ensure students get the most from them:

  1. Study your students, not the content.

  2. Don't make it a talk; build a conversation.

  3. Be willing to go off script and respond to new needs.

  4. Keep it simple: if you have one hour, go deep with three concepts. Don't force your students to drink from a fire hose. The more you teach, the less they learn. The less you teach, the more they learn. 

  5. Interview your audience in advance: what do they want and need?

  6. Take cues from your favorite comedians: tell stories and get to the point.

  7. Set up for success: what kind of room would you want to be in for professional development?

  8. Build slides with no more than three learning points on each slide (ideally one).

  9. More on slides: a picture is worth a thousand words: fill the slide with a high-res photo.

  10. Make it one learns how to ride a bike by hearing about it.

  11. Invite people on an individual basis; we don't go to events because of marketing, but because we planned to go with our friends.

  12. Speak with more than passion—you must feel obligated to be the person to deliver this message.

  13. Build reflection into the program, because they're going to do something else right afterward.

  14. Look like you're having fun. The more fun you're having presenting, the more fun the audience will have.

  15. Create a great experience for your students and they'll show up to the next event.

  16. Stop using lecture-style seating. Always, always, always use Chevron or U-shape when you can.

When all else fails, hire a professional to be your partner in the development and facilitation. 

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Here are 16 of our bestselling shows, seminars, and retreats to help make your job easier and to help you look like a hero to your campus community.

Learn More About Our Seminars

Developing (More Than) A Presidents Council

THE ORIGINAL POST in the Student Activities Professionals group:


You can see the conversation began with 35 comments, and then I suggested that I would compile the responses along with our own Collegiate Empowerment research and experience together for everyone.

Allow me to build some credibility. As Director and Facilitator with Collegiate Empowerment, I have worked with, interviewed, and performed seminars for more than 150 Higher Education Professionals  during 300+ events for more than 36,000 students since 2004. More than half of those events are leadership or organizational development in nature, and almost half of those are for the top tier student leaders (the ones we aren’t allowed to call “favorites”). During the customization of these seminars, we undoubtedly discuss building or advancing their executive council or leaders of leaders.

We also work closely with 14 client advisors that guide us in developing the structure and curriculum of our programs.

But the biggest numbers...

Since 1995, Collegiate Empowerment has empowered over 1.8 million students on stage, off stage, in large groups up to 2,400 and small groups of just five participants, during motivational seminars to weekend leadership development retreats to multi-event and multi-year consulting relationships. We've worked closely with 35,000+ professionals during seminar experience design, professional development workshops on campus and at conferences, in one-to-one coaching, and throughout multi-year relationships.

We have facilitated more than 5,000 seminars, retreats, and conferences and these events are grounded in practicality and have been researched and applied at more than 2,800 campuses. We have proven through individual success stories, changes to organizational culture, and improved perspectives of professionals that our seminars are not only evidence-based, but actually make a difference.

So yeah, we know a little bit.



Responses in the thread range from when to meet to what to talk about to lunch with the president to meeting structure to content development. There is no one way to do this, so I’m taking what I’ve experienced, what we at Collegiate Empowerment have seen or heard, and the responses to put together some action steps. Okay, not some, but a lot…


Step 1: Decide the purpose.

Who is meeting? I suggest a group of presidents from all clubs and orgs (including Greeks, RAs, and athletes) or you could invite any number of representatives from the respective exec boards.

Why are they getting together? What are the benefits for the students? What are the benefits for you and student life? This is up to you, and I recommend the deeper purpose is to #1 develop the leadership capacity for each student involved, #2 discuss the brighter future of the clubs and orgs, #3, discuss the bigger picture of the campus, and #4 network so they all know what’s going on in each other’s club so they can ultimately collaborate and have bigger events and more success.

What should you call it? Have an awesome, enticing name. Give them something to look forward to. Use words we use in everyday language. And make them a team (they’ll work together more instead of assuming it’s just a meeting).


Step 2: What is the council/team experience like four years from now?

Yes, that far into the future. Start with a fascinating vision that gets you, the students, and the campus excited. If it’s challenging to get excited about the big picture, it will be challenging to get students excited about the present moment.


Step 3: Determine the setup and context.

What is the timeline and when will the team meet? Several options here. One is to meet monthly for an hour or two during the week. Another is to meet monthly for a half-day on a weekend. A third option is to meet once a semester for a full day (I don’t suggest this). Three big things you’ll need to make this work: a bright future, frequency of interaction (imagine only being with your significant other once a month), and provokability (the ability to encourage and push each other without taking offense). You can have food or not.

What is the structure of the meetings? Start with a five-minute energizer and team builder. Don’t call it an ice breaker. Let them loosen up and get to know each other. Then do the most important thing first, whatever you and those students (yes, give them ownership and let them help decide what they want to get out of it). I think it will be some sort of personal development. A Gallup study says that people who are clear on their personal values and goals are 33% more likely to be committed to the organization. After the learning, have an open forum for the biggest issues on campus (you won’t get past three issues). Then provide the opportunity to network and share what events are going on and how they can help each other. It will take a few meetings to find your flow. Be patient and let the students know that this is the first time you’re doing this, so you’ll all be learning and optimizing how this works. There should already be a campus calendar in place for event updates, so this shouldn’t be scheduled for a long time as it normally gets out of hand. For new events, have the students make the report exciting, animated, and catchy to generate interest (no more of this “we have an event coming up on a date and we want you to come” nonsense). And what is the dress code?

I have attached a tool here that we use as a team to generate excitement, build momentum, and honor progress. Feel free to use the tools themselves or the message of the tool. Use it for yourself, too!

What will it or should it cost? Unless you need to rent the room or order food, it shouldn’t cost a thing. Rather, it’s an investment of your time and the students’ time. They need to understand that. So do you.

What resources do you need? Do you need approval from a Dean or VP? Do you need to rent a room? How much time do you need to set aside to plan for this experience in advance?

Where does it take place? Whatever room you choose, keep it consistent so everyone knows where to find it.

Are there any incentives? Are incentives even needed? As the students invited (personally invited; no email or letter invitation) what they want and need from this experience. Make this personal, make it special, and make it a big deal. If you make it a big deal for them, they’ll make it a big deal for the campus. Then you won’t need incentives.

What materials are necessary for each gathering? The usual: projector, screen, sound system, microphone (for any group larger than 25), slides and graphics that are beautifully designed (no paragraphs in PowerPoint), roundtables, flip charts, markers, paper pads, pens, etc.


Step 4: Build the content.

Here’s the hard part or the easy part (depends what you do). The easy way out is to take an already established leadership program and plug the content into the experience. I recommend The Student Leadership Challenge as it’s evidence-based and researched over the last 30 years (that’s why we have a partnership with the publisher). It's one of the most popular leadership models on campuses in the country. It's based on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, has an assessment and 360 degree assessment, and several books for teachers and students.

Here are The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership…

Some other recommendations are Corey Seemiller's Student Leadership Competencies, the NACA Competency Guide for College Student Leaders, The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, and Strengths. There are oh so many more to choose from, but I have a feeling you don’t want to make the choice hard.

Finally, you can always set up a call with me or one of my teammates and we’ll guide you through a few custom programs we’ve built for the campuses we work with.


Step 5: Focus on design and delivery.

This is such a big topic, particularly for me as the facilitator trainer. To keep it simple: hire an expert facilitator. A little less simple: give it a shot yourself and hope for the best. Even less simple: work with a committee to have multiple professionals and students presenting on different topics that integrate and connect throughout the course of each gathering. A lot less simple: get certified yourself.


Step 6: Implement.

And don’t do it just once or twice. Leadership development is like taking a shower; if you only do it once, you’ll stink. Plan to do this for at least two years. The first year is the setup year (you’re setting up the experience and building momentum). The next year is to upgrade from all the mistakes you made during the first year with a totally fresh group of student leaders.

The goal is students teaching students. Wouldn’t it be great if you could work yourself out of this job where the students are running the meetings, doing the presenting, and holding each other accountable?!


Step 7: Evaluate.

Wait, we’re in Higher Ed. I should say “assess.” One of the best ways to do this is with the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation. Start at the bottom.


If you’re really serious about building this executive council or board of presidents or whatever you’re going to call it, I have also attached a PDF of some customized slides for creating a leadership development program. The process is the same. Please let me know if you have any questions and how I can make your job easier.

Here to make you look like a hero,


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