It’s something that comes up every year, something I always get asked: what do you actually get for the cost of your ticket to #SRAcon? Well, look, if you’re after an actual breakdown of what it covers – accommodation, transport at the event, food, and so on – then you’ll want to have a look at our previous post about what your money buys. But I’m looking at everything else that you get, and it’s an awful lot.

This might be my first year on the SRA team and my first conference from this side, but I’ve done five conferences as a delegate – yes, as the team like to remind me, I am old. Here are my top five things from the conference from my five years attending them:

Demo Factor –

Who doesn’t like overly dramatic evenings when there is the chance to have your future in radio made for you? Demo Factor is one of the most nerve-wracking, terrifying, amazing, and entertaining things you’ll ever go to. Here’s how it works, in a nutshell. Student presenters from across the country send in their demos where a panel of industry experts sit and listen to them, live on stage, with big red buttons just like Britain’s Got Talent. Everyone gets feedback, whether your demo gets played out or now, and sometimes people who have their demo played are asked to go and see the judges once it’s all finished to chat through things a bit more.

I remember Demo Factor in 2012 where I made a demo in nowhere near enough time and it was pants. It got more and more nervous as the night went on! Hearing the feedback for everyone gave me so many good things to focus on in my demos going forwards, to the extent that last year
someone liked my demo enough to give me a job on commercial radio.
The first evening of the conference just wouldn’t be the same without Demo Factor, because we need Big. Gold. Letters. And yes, it is dramatic, and the music makes things tense, but it is a proper show and you can learn so much in a really enjoyable way. When demos are kinda the biggest thing for an aspiring radio presenter, DF is not to be missed.

Voice of the Awards –

Every year at conference, there is the opportunity to enter a competition called the Voice of the Awards. Here, you go into the studio and record a few lines with real life voiceover artists and producers there to help. I have entered this every year and never won – although my friend Danny did win it last year, so if you joined us at the Student Radio Awards 2018 supported by BBC Radio 1 and Global, you will have heard him and Jennie announcing a whole host of stuff.

But I always learnt something from entering, as the gang in the studio are there to help give you some coaching. It’s proper, practical, professional advice and feedback that has made a huge difference to how I present, and especially how I do voiceovers for ads and jingles. And there’s always the chance as well that you become the voice of the biggest student media awards in Europe, which is pretty damn cool – just ask Danny and Jennie!

In Nottingham in 2010, at my first conference, as a shy 18-year-old lad, the things I got told and feedback from my audition stayed with me for ages, gave me a fire in my belly, and made me realise how much I loved radio.

The Talks –

The best thing about conference is the smorgasbord of speakers that come along to talk, of radio industry professionals who give up their time to come and support us. It doesn’t matter what you are into with radio, there’s a speaker there for you. Want to know about the latest tech or production techniques? There’s a talk for that. Want to know what it takes to programme a schedule at a major station and how that can help you at your station? Want to hear how to get a job by the people who have done it? Guess what? There’s a talk for that too.

In Leicester, at DMU in 2017, I experience the best talk I’ve ever attended. I don’t just mean at the Student Radio Conference, but the best full stop. Considering I’ve been at a talk with an actual astronaut, that’s pretty special. One of the keynotes that year, and the keynotes are always amazing, was with Stephanie Hirst. This talk had everything. It was funny, moving, honest, inspiring, and personal. Steph is a wonderful radio presenter and an incredible role model. That talk was worth the ticket price alone.

I Love Student Radio Awards –

We have two awards ceremonies at the SRA, and this one we host at
conference. This is all about showing love for the people at student radio stations across the country who do all the behind the scenes things that make the station brilliant, and without whom the place just wouldn’t be the same. It’s a magical night, and it’s pretty cool to have a full, fancy awards
ceremony at your conference.

Everyone is there, all dressed up to the nines, including the industry, and you get a proper three-course dinner with it as well. Then the awards start, and for some people, the night becomes incredibly magical. I won’t bang on about it, but if you’d like to know what it’s like to win at the ILSRs, you can check out my experience from last year in Norwich. And because the industry is there, you have so many people that want to talk to you that you’re stood there like, ‘you’re really important, why do you want to talk to me?’ Even if you aren’t up for anything, there’s always a lot of fun to be had. At a former station back in 2011, our station manager couldn’t make the conference so refused to enter us for any awards. So we made our own. We’re at the ceremony, joining in with everyone else and celebrating their wins, dressed all fancy, and making our own awards from the wooden cutlery we got earlier with our lunch. Back in the studios, they went up onto the wall – Friendliest Station; Most Militant Station; and Best Station at Shouting the word Jam! The nights really are the highlight of conference; they are a proper good laugh. And there’s drinks to be had, which are the only things really that aren’t included in your ticket price!

The People –

What I really love about conference, and what I’ve always loved, is getting to meet so many brilliant people who have the same passion as I do. The speakers are amazing and always happy to have a chat – friends of mine who have gone to conference have got work experience and all sorts from speaking to the right people whilst they are there. You can really make the contacts with the industry that will help you go forwards in your career.

However, the people I’m really talking about here are your fellow delegates. I’ve met some incredible student radioers over the years, and conference is such as great place to do this. 2011, the conference in Hertfordshire, stands out for me as a year that I got to know loads of brilliant people doing amazing radio, and still I have contact with them. They are all across the country, but you can learn from how they do things and make a change to your station and your show off the back of it. I used to listen to Michael and Georgie on their station, miles away, after we met at conference – they
did a brilliant review of that week’s The Apprentice in under a minute – and they listened to us, and we all helped each other out.

You can also get to know the people in your station better as well. 2011, there were a few people in our group that I didn’t really know, and one that I hadn’t met at all. By the end of conference, we had decided to do a show together the following year, and Lizzie and I quickly became firm friends.
Likewise, last year we got to know everyone on our table at the ILSRs, and we still have a Snapchat group we use to keep in touch. As with anything, it’s the people that make it.

There are my highlights; these are my stories. The great things about conference is you’ll quickly make your own. I am so excited about this year in Swansea. That’s partly because I know what’s coming up and have been working on it with the team for a fair old while now, but mainly because
I’m always excited about conference. It’s the best three days of the year, every year. When I look back at everything I got from the previous ones as a delegate, it has always been exceptionally great value for money. And above all, it’s a bloody good laugh!

See you in Swansea!