Have you ever wondered how events in your troop get planned? If you’re relatively new to Scouting, this process might seem like a total mystery. Not to fear! Below, I’ll be explaining how troop planning conferences work (and the best ways of running them) so that your troop can be prepared with awesome activities for the coming year.
What is a Troop Planning Conference? A troop planning conference is a meeting that’s typically run by your patrol leader’s council and involves scheduling the upcoming year’s calendar of events. Most large Scouting events such as Summer camps, Eagle Court of Honors, fundraisers, and high adventure trips are scheduled during this time.
PS. This article is based on the experiences and research of Eagle Scouts, Kevin A and Cole 🙂
While there’s definitely a lot of information you’ll be going over during a troop planning conference, these meetings can be streamlined so that they’re run more efficiently. That way, everyone won’t get too tired out because, believe me, when it comes to planning meetings, it’s very easy to let time get away from you!
Before we get started though, for all of you visual learners out there, you might prefer to watch the informative video below before getting into the article. This BSA video (7:30) gives you a helpful, high-level overview of the troop planning conference process:
Now, are you ready to get into the nitty-gritty of running a Troop Planning Conference? I’m hoping that these tips from the BSA and my own experiences will help to make your troop conferences run as smoothly as possible. Let’s get into it! 😀
Preparing For a Troop Planning Conference
Often, a bit of preparation is required to make any meeting run more smoothly. Troop planning conferences are no exception! While there isn’t an insane amount of prep work to be done before a troop planning conference, any work that can be prepared before the meeting itself will save a ton of time later on!
Remember: as Abraham Lincoln once wisely said,
“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.”
By taking a bit of time to be extra prepared, you’ll end up saving a lot more of your (and others) time in the long run. Putting in the work early to save time for everyone, later on, is a great trait to build in yourself — and a quality I’ve seen in almost every great troop leader!
Also, while the BSA video I included earlier recommended you prepare a ton of documents for your annual troop planning conference, sometimes that could be a bit much. Below, I’ll be giving you the 4 key points of preparation that my troop used for successful planning conferences!
1. Review Last Year’s Annual Plan
Reviewing last year’s plan is my #1 tip for holding successful troop planning conferences as a first-timer! By speaking with your Scoutmaster or past SPL about the previous year’s annual plan, you’ll quickly gain some valueable insights into how your troop best holds its planning conferences.
Additionally, looking over past plans will help you to see how the events you’ve been enjoying this past year were organized. Depending on how well you think these events were executed, you can repeat or improve upon the planning for this coming year’s schedule! 🙂
2. Find Dates of Council/District Events, Annual Troop Events, and Holidays/Other Important Events
There are probably numerous council/district events that your troop could attend or even be partly responsible for. Therefore, it’s important to write the dates of these events down in your calendar! Below are the main events whose dates you should identify on your calendar, beforehand:
- Summer/Winter Camps
- Camporees held by Districts/Councils
- Multi-day High Adventure Activities
- Order Of The Arrow Events
- Important Dates For Your Chartered Organization
- Troop Fundraisers
- Scout Recruiting Initiatives (My guide to easy troop recruiting!)
- Recurring Volunteering Events
- Seasonal Time off From Scouting
- Important Council/District Meetings
- Key School Dates
Finally, you should find out the dates of holidays that your troop observes, as well as any other important events that don’t fall into the categories listed above. For example, if your troop’s Scoutmaster and adult leaders all go on a trip every year, make sure to note down that they’ll be unavailable.
3. Develop an Agenda for the Troop Planning Conference
Just like in PLC meetings (check out our article on how to run great PLC meetings!), coming up with an agenda is important to put everyone attending on the same page and provide some structure to the conference itself.
This agenda doesn’t necessarily need to have strict timestamps like they do for PLC meetings (as planning conferences are much more variable in time), but giving approximate time frames will be helpful for keeping everyone on track.
4. Go Over Your Prep Work With Your Scoutmaster
Once you’ve collected all of the information, you should go over your prep work with a Scoutmaster. They’ll give you advice on how to improve, confirm dates, and give you helpful tips on how to run the meeting well. Your Scoutmaster is your greatest resource when it comes to troop planning conferences!
However, don’t feel pressured to go over every single little thing in this pre-meeting. Your Scoutmaster (along with other advisors) will be present during the actual planning conference to provide guidance and answer questions when needed.
Holding an Annual Troop Planning Conference
Your annual troop planning conference is here! In most cases, the SPL is expected to lead the conference and moderate discussions that are bound to occur. They’re also responsible for keeping time so that everything can be covered. It’s a lot of responsibility, which is why it’s best to prepare beforehand. 😉
With that being said, let’s get into how to organize the actual troop planning conference!
Make Sure the Following People are in Attendance:
Main Planning Committee
- The Senior Patrol Leader (SPL)
- The Assistant Senior Patrol Leader (ASPL)
- All Patrol Leaders
- Troop Guide (If your troop has one)
- Troop Scribe (if easier note-taking is desired; they might not be able to contribute to discussions)
- Assistant Scoutmasters
- Junior Assistant Scoutmasters
- Any other individuals who will actively engage in supportive discussions, such as your unit commissioner or a chartered organization representative
- (Optional) Some troops also allow any interested scouts and volunteers to attend and participate.
Doing Icebreakers, Establishing Ground Rules, and Setting Goals
While it’s important to get into the planning stage of the conference as soon as possible, you’ll want to first lay down some ground rules so that everyone can get on the same page. You shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time on this section of the conference, but it’s still important to include it!
When it comes to any group planning meeting, there will be a lot of different voices and opinions to deal with, so you’ll need to act as a leader to get everyone focused. Taking a few minutes to briefly explain what the group is working towards will help make the actual planning stage come along much more smoothly!
First: Start by doing an icebreaker so that everyone can get a little more comfortable speaking up. You could even ask each person what their favorite and least favorite activity was from the past year. This may be the first time some people are working together, so breaking the ice is a good way to get started.
Then: Briefly set ground rules for how everyone should interact constructively, not talk over each other, and try to come to mutual resolutions. After that, it’ll be time to get into the meat of things…
Setting goals for the conference can help keep your group on track in times of confusion. I’d recommend suggesting a goal before starting. That way, if the planning group ever gets off the rails, you can return to your goals to get back on track! So what are good goals?…
Goals For Your Troop Planning Conference Vs. The Upcoming Year
Don’t mistake troop goals for the goals of the troop planning conference!
- The goals for your troop planning conference are things you want to accomplish by the end of the meeting.
- For example, “creating a complete troop schedule for the year,” or “Finish planning all upcoming volunteering events by 3:00 pm.”
- Troop goals are future plans that you’re aiming to be prepared for through the work done during the planning conference.
- For example, a troop goal could be something like, “Schedule at least 1 exceptional event per month to engage the younger scouts and aid in troop retention (link is my ultimate guide to retaining scouts in your troop!)” or, “plan at least 3 new volunteering events.”
Developing these troop goals will help everyone further solidify what types of activities you’ll be planning for the coming year. When you and your planning committee make decisions, you can use some of these goals to guide the decision-making process!
I’d recommend coming up with at least 5 goals that your troop wants to accomplish this upcoming year. Aiming for an ambitious but worthwhile goal is a great way to achieve spectacular planning results that every scout will later enjoy! 🙂
Discuss Major Events and Plan the Calendar
This is the biggest part of your annual troop planning conference! Planning and outlining the major events of the next year will definitely take some time. The leader of the meeting will have to constantly balance getting input, making final decisions, and judging when to move on.
The most important thing here is to keep everyone focused and on track. To do this, there are 2 main ways that annual troop planning conferences can be structured, which will help you to make sure that everything is taken care of:
The Big-things-first Approach: An effective method for conducting a troop planning conference is to go over all of the major events that will happen during the year, first. Afterward, you can move on to medium-tier events and lastly small events.
The drawback of the Big-things-first approach is that you’ll be going over the entire year’s calendar at one time. People will need to flip back and forth between months, which might waste time. However, if you can’t finish everything that day and need to prioritize, the Big-things-first approach will be perfect!
The Sequential Approach: You could also go month by month, planning events each month and going through the calendar chronologically. This is especially good if your committee works better by approaching things in smaller increments, as months are smaller categories than “major events vs. medium events vs small events).
The drawback of the sequential approach is that you could very easily spend too much time in your first few months, and not get around to planning important events later on in the year. However, this is usually the most popular approach for planning conferences.
I’d suggest doing a mix of these two approaches. You could start out with the Big-things-first approach and get your most important 3-5 events planned out, then sequentially go through the less-important items. Since annual planning meetings are all about prioritization, this hybrid approach will likely help you the most!
In addition to the meeting’s structure, you should also pin down an approximate program/itinerary that each event will follow. Here is an example of what this could look like:
- Event: 10-mile hike
- Location: Twin Peaks
- Date: September 27th, 2021
- Time: 7:00 am – 4:00 pm
- Transportation: At least 5 parent volunteers and the Scoutmaster will drive scouts to and from the hike
- Supplies: Scouts bring their own hiking shoes, backpack, misc hiking equipment, water, lunch, compass, and map.
This example event plan could even be a little too detailed. Since some of the events are over half a year away, it’s perfectly alright to just plan out the event, location, date, and time (and consider further details as the date approaches). This way, you’ll save enough time to cover everything important!
As you’re deciding on the events, you should write down the dates, times, and locations of each event on a central calendar, like this one. This BSA calendar is especially helpful, as it gives you monthly themes that your troop can plan events around. Feel free to choose your themes as a committee though, too. 😉
3) Review the Plan/Calendar with your Troop’s Unit Committee and your Troop’s Chartered Organization
Finally, once the plan has been finalized among your PLC, you should present the schedule to your troop’s unit committee head and the representative from the chartered organization. If they were already in attendance, it could be as simple as confirming with them right there and then that this will be the finalized schedule.
If your troop’s unit committee head and chartered organization rep are not in attendance, you’ll have to schedule a separate time with each one of them to go over the calendar. This will give them a chance to raise any concerns or changes they’d like to make to the schedule, which you’ll then take back to your PLC.
Even if changes are requested, you don’t need to set up a second planning conference! It’ll probably be a bit overkill if only a few changes were brought up. At the next PLC meeting, simply go over the new comments and resolve them on a case-by-case basis.
4) Present and Distribute The Plan
After the plan has been finalized and approved, all that’s left to do is present it to your troop! Also, be sure to distribute the full calendar to the scouts, their family members, members of the unit committee, members of your chartered organization, and anyone else who should be in the loop.
So, what’s the best method of getting the calendar out to your troop? Well, there are 2 main ways that it’s usually done: physically handing out calendars, or by uploading the calendar to your troop website and giving people the link via email. Honestly, I’d recommend using both methods!
That’s all there is to it! While troop planning conferences can seem overwhelming at first, when you break everything down, it’s actually not too hard an event to carry out! After reading this article, I hope you’re now ready to make your Annual Troop Planning Conference a big success!
If you enjoyed learning about how to hold awesome and productive troop planning conferences, you’re probably an older scout or troop leader! In either case, I’d highly recommend reading any of the following articles, if they spark your interest:
- 99 Extraordinary And Creative Eagle Scout Project Ideas
- How To Be An Amazing SPL (That Your Troop Loves)
- How To Plan The Perfect Eagle Scout Project
- Why Scouts Wear Neckerchief Scarfs (And Their Shocking Symbolism)
Great work reading this far, and thanks for improving our world through your involvement in Scouting. Wishing you all the best in all of your future troop planning conferences! Come back to ScoutSmarts soon and, until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey! 🙂