Is running on-campus events an art or a science? Actually, I’d argue it’s a martial art. It requires preparation, discipline and taught techniques but also mental agility, quick reactions and creativity.
From careers fairs to panel presentations, alumni talks to pop-up coffee carts, university campuses are awash with events designed to inform, advise and attract students. Careers services, graduate recruiters, and marketing teams spend huge amounts of time, money and effort second guessing student behaviour. It’s big business and hard to master.
So, ahead of our On-campus Events workshop on 8th March, here are the critical qualities you need to be an events black belt.
No-one gets a black belt by winging it. Before you even enter the events arena, do some research into what awaits you. Who are your key stakeholders? What are their priorities? What are yours? What are you aiming to achieve? How can you evaluate your success?
Understand the environment you’re working in. Is your university multi-site? Where are the highest areas of footfall? Where are possible venues you can use? What limitations are you working within? Know your audience and environment before you design, or agree to host, anything on-campus.
2. Bravery & flexibility
Don’t be afraid to try new things, or to stop things that you’ve done for years. Good events are rooted in a moment in time. Be flexible in your approach. Let’s take careers fairs as an example. Gone are the days of general careers fairs. Many universities now offer a selection targeted by industry area, student year group, or fair function. There are placement fairs, just-in-time spring recruitment fairs, first year information fairs, one day fairs, half day fairs – the list is endless. Some employers don’t attend fairs at all, and the best careers services are continually flexing their events schedule to meet the needs of all stakeholders. I’m not saying stop careers fairs completely, but continually evaluate your events repertoire. Networking, speed-dating, industry panels, supply chain panels, guru lectures, alumni mixers, start-up cafes – great events come in all shapes and sizes.
Whether it is time of year, time of day or duration of event, timing is a critical success factor. It’s easy to be swayed by ease of delivery (we all know the pain of room and staff availability) but your audience is king here. Understanding your stakeholders and knowing your environment is crucial for this. Put yourself in their shoes and see when is best for them.
Powerful communication makes an impact. Get the right message out in the right way and your event will flourish. Whether that’s getting employers on campus or students to your event, marketing is crucial. Employer comms should always be professional, but peer to peer marketing and quirky concepts can be very effective with students (University of Sheffield students still talk about the promotional campaign using life-size cut outs of Fred from First Dates…). Just remember the golden rule: you can deliver perfect event logistics but without participants you just have an empty room and catering.
If patience is a virtue, discipline underpins flawless event management. This is where the science bit comes in. There are proven event management techniques that transfer to all kinds of events. There are template schedules and documents that can be used year on year with only a few tweaks. There are technological solutions for room layouts, registration and evaluation. Solid planning and meticulous scheduling of pre, during and post event actions will ensure your events are given the best possible chance to shine, this time and every time.
This really makes the difference between a good and great event experience. Little things matter. Seeing things from another’s viewpoint helps anticipate and resolve challenges before they become problems. For example, an employer travelling for hours to reach your campus will be concerned by their own human needs (easy car parking, a hot drink on arrival, chance to go to the bathrooms etc) when they first arrive as much as the event itself. We know of someone who takes note of what the employer drinks and greets them with it when they arrive. Extreme yes, but memorable. Careers fair catering is another constant source of debate. Let me clear it up for you. Yes it does matter. Particularly if the recruiter is doing 20 fairs back to back and not seeing home for a few weeks. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
Similarly students need an easy access venue, scheduling that works with their timetable and so on.
Manage expectations if you are worried about attendance or other problems. Work with employers – let them know your concerns and give alternative options. Similarly communicate to students who will be at the event, what they are there to do / talk about, and what they will be expecting of them. Some universities offer students preparation workshops before a big event. Others, like University of Leicester, insist on it.
Just as a black belt will show courtesy and bow to their counterpart, etiquette is still important for events. Always thank your guests, particularly employers. Sending a quick thank you note immediately after the event should be standard. Including feedback on the event that a recruiter can use in their evaluation or pass on to managers will help you stand out.
These areas and many more will be explored at our workshop on 8th March. We'd love to hear the good, bad and ugly of events you've experienced. What are your top tactics for on-campus events?