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In this guide, we’ll take you on a journey through the event lifecycle from start to finish and will show you how the right event technology provider can make a world of difference for higher education institutions.
Every industry has unique needs and challenges when it comes to events, and this is especially true for the world of higher education. Events are used at colleges and universities to create an engaging environment on campus, to increase revenue and fundraising efforts, and, most importantly to build lifelong relationships with students and alumni. With so many different types of events and goals, it can be hard to keep track of it all.
Planning an event in a higher education institution comes with a plethora of challenges. A key challenge being that event planning is one of many hats you may wear in your institution. Learn how implementing a robust technology solution can help you plan and streamline your in-person, virtual, or hybrid higher education event, whatever it may be.
With the right solution, define your strategies and execute:
In this guide, find the most efficient way to plan and execute your institution’s event. By learning how to create a checklist for your next event, you can ensure you have all the content and support you need to make it a success.
Most higher education event managers wear their event planning hats a few times a year. As the event planner, you execute events as part of your job description, and you can’t spend every hour of the week focusing on event planning and management.
Manual processes and outdated means of communication may slow down the event planning process. Create a checklist to make sure you’re efficiently planning your event, targeting the right audience, and reaching your goals.
Using the right technology, you can execute your event and strategy all in one place.
A comprehensive checklist for event strategy and execution includes:
Dive in to learn how to check all of these items off your list efficiently and discover where your higher ed event may need the flexible support of an updated tech stack.
The first step in any higher education event strategy is goal development and alignment. The event you're planning is likely the kickoff for a goal your department or team strives to reach.
Job fairs lead to students beginning careers; alumni events lead to increased fundraising awareness; staff training events lead to better-equipped workers; Prospect events lead to new students, and so on.
Point your event goals back to your ultimate goals. Whatever the goal of your event is, align it with the goals of your team, department, college, and ultimately your university, and keep that in mind as you start thinking about a marketing strategy. Make sure all of your planning points to that one goal.
Creating key performance indicators (KPIs) that determine event success will help your team rally around your common goal.
Some important KPIs to keep track of include:
Keeping your event goals in line with your university’s overall goals will help gain major stakeholder support. A conversation every event planner must have at some point is the budget talk. How much will need to be done on the university’s dime, and how do you justify the ROI?
With your goals and KPIs in place, reach out to stakeholders involved in the financial side of your event to find out what your budget will look like. You may be able to advocate for a higher budget for two reasons:
With a tool to measure KPIs and ultimately your overall ROI from an event, your stakeholders have the ability to see exactly how effective your event was and how it pushed the university closer to overarching goals.
With a budget number secure, begin thinking about the marketing collateral you need to promote your event.
Marketing collateral is every design or piece of writing you need to promote your event. It’s important for all of this content to take shape before you promote it to make sure you’re targeting the right audience and weaving your goals throughout in a cohesive manner.
If you’re trying to attract more than one type of attendee, keep that in mind when creating content. It may be helpful to create tracks to excite different kinds of audiences.
For example, if you’re planning a job fair, create content for potential participating businesses, as well as college seniors looking for employment.
To understand the full scope of design and copy needed, you'll need to refer back to your goals and evaluate your promotion channels.
In general, most higher education events require:
Another factor to consider is incorporating your university’s colors and branding throughout your design process. Not only will this resonate with stakeholders by increasing your school’s brand awareness, but it will also evoke an emotional response from returning alumni or prospective students.
Once you lay the foundation for your marketing strategy, implementation begins. You’ll be able to see what’s working and what pieces aren’t as successful, and you can tweak content as you go. But having a foundation built will kickstart your process.
Before you start attracting visitors to your virtual or hybrid event, design an attractive landing page to draw in potential attendees once they reach your site. To re-iterate the importance of your landing page, it is the single most important piece of collateral you will create to market your higher education event.
This page is where potential attendees decide whether or not they will attend your event or bookmark it for another day.
If your event targets more than one audience, make sure everyone is represented on your landing page. Keep it flexible, with key information near the top to excite them and acquire a response.
Always include a few key elements on your landing page to help educate potential attendees and convert them to attendees. These include:
Once your landing page is designed and on your site, it’s time to start thinking about how and where to market the content you created by developing a strategy.
The online promotion of your virtual or hybrid event is a driving force to bring visitors to your registration page. Things like flyers and word of mouth are a great approach for local, returning attendees, but your audience could become a lot larger in a virtual setting.
Alumni or prospective students can tune in from all over the world, and the way to reach them is a strong digital marketing strategy.
Based on the audiences you’re trying to reach, where you promote your virtual event may differ. Creating accounts to promote your event on various social media platforms will help gain awareness among your target audience.
Follow your regular attendees, or brand ambassadors, on social media and encourage them to share or repost your content so potential attendees may see it and follow your calls-to-action to your landing page. Some common sites to promote include Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
For an event like a job fair, LinkedIn can help attendees connect with your brand and each other. If your attendees already have a presence on the platform, it may help them build connections at your fair.
Once your accounts are in place, it's time to start promoting your event. The posts on your social media calendar should include the content you created at the beginning of this process. Promote your event using:
Use social media as a way to interest your audience in your event and university and drive them toward your landing page.
Another strategy to promote your event is creating a customizable email newsletter to send relevant event information to potential attendees and attendees alike until the day of your event.
Your email should include things like their first name, and based on the audience persona you’re targeting, create different tracks with relevant content.
With your event content out in the digital space, your data tracking begins. Your event management platform should gather data on overall post engagement and show you which posts are working and which may need some love.
Once visitors start clicking on your registration CTAs, it’s important to maintain a frictionless registration process.
Even though communicating with students and alumni can be done through a variety of channels (social media, phone, text, etc.), email is still a planner’s go-to throughout the entire event lifecycle. Whether it’s used to promote registration, send important event updates, or even just to say “thank you for attending” post-event, sending exceptional event emails is crucial to maintaining engagement.
When you design event emails, keep them simple and clean. Attendees won’t know what to look at first if an email has an overload of graphics and information.
Consistency is important with design. Include your school's logo, colors, and other design elements to tie everything together. Make important actions, like registering, utilizing a discount, or even following social media accounts, easy and clear by including buttons and widgets.
Sending the right emails at the right time can help increase registration numbers, as well as attendee participation; all of which benefits your event ROI.
Think about what information is crucial for each different type of registrant to know.
Using marketing automation like Hubspot or Marketo will allow you to track visitors on your website. If you have a potential new student who downloaded your course schedule for your engineering program, then you can tailor email communication to them to entice them to visit your school.
Don’t forget to include a captivating subject line. Along with looking to see who the sender is, attendees will also look at the subject line before even opening the email. Make the subject line a phrase or sentence that will make attendees want to open your email.
When it comes to scheduling emails, finding the right balance throughout your event timeline is critical.
Weeks leading up to your event, you want to keep constant communication. Use an email scheduling calendar to know what informational messages you are sending them and when. By using a marketing automation tool or event management software platform with email, you can track who is opening what emails to see who needs to be nurtured more leading up to your event.
Use software that can track who has registered and who needs additional encouragement. There’s no point in filling a committed attendee’s inbox with registration emails if you can prevent it. Tracking clicks and open rates can help you find the email schedule sweet spot, which is beneficial for both you and your attendees.
Research has shown that including a recipient’s name in your emails (i.e. Dear John Smith vs. Dear Attendee) has increased the number of clicks and opens, so don’t forget those little, personalized details.
Registering attendees can be a cumbersome process for event planners. It can feel overwhelming since it’s a key step of the event lifecycle. The manual output of registrant information onto a spreadsheet can span weeks, waiting for the last attendee to sign up before finalizing lists. On top of that, with virtual capabilities, your event numbers may rise significantly compared to the past.
One of the most sought-after aspects of higher ed event management is a reliable and automated registration process.
Automating the registration process through an event management platform will not only make it easier for you, but your attendees will appreciate it as well. With automation, you’re able to:
Once the potential attendee decides they want to attend your event, they want the registration process to be as frictionless as possible from start to finish. Keep the number of pages to a minimum while gathering as much information as possible. Using this information, you can build customer profiles in your system to personalize email messaging and store it for future events.
Once your event marketing strategy is in place, begin to pivot your thinking to the day of your event and what you need to make it a success.
Without guardrails, speaker submissions arrive in all formats, at all times, and from everywhere. To regulate a mass amount of submissions, consider creating one place to create forms, submit content, approve submissions, and generate a final event agenda.
To make your life easier, create guidelines for what submissions you’ll accept and what information you want people to include in their submissions. By doing this, you can diversify your event content by contrasting submissions and organizing prospective event content.
Next, create a place to submit this content and only allow submission after event registration. Choose the best sessions from speakers who are willing to commit to your university event without the promise of a speaking engagement.
Finally, it’s important to find a solution to automate approved proposals and sort them into an agenda. The faster you finalize your event agenda, the better so you can promote speakers and sessions in your marketing strategy.
Nothing evokes school pride and participation more than symbols of your college or university, whether it’s your mascot, logo, motto, or school colors. Event software can help easily incorporate these elements into your event materials, such as registration pages, event websites, campaign emails, and surveys.
With your marketing and communication, you need to make sure that you have your university or college branding across all mediums.
The website and registration pages for your events, social media profiles, and emails should all have your school's logo and colors to help build positive expectations for your students, alumni, and more.
One of the easiest ways to keep up with consistency is to create templates with your college or university branding, so that no matter who on your team needs to add a new webpage to your website or create a promotional email, your branding is already formatted to your preferences.
Along with increasing consistency, by creating templates you’re also saving staff valuable time and money, as any important or urgent information that needs to be posted online or sent out via email can be completed in minutes.
If you want to take incorporating school pride to the next level, work with your software provider’s professional services team. They can help make your websites, emails, apps, and other event elements more attractive and engaging with all of your school symbols.
Typically, you'd spend a good portion of your event budget on branding the event space, a caterer, and decorations to give your event the identity you have given it through marketing. With a virtual event, this piece isn't thrown out; it’s simply re-allocated to your digital platform.
Creating a platform online with the look and feel of your university, and more specifically, your department is important to the attendee on the day of the event. Although they aren’t on campus, brand identity is still alive and may contribute to the overall feel of your event.
By combining a branded digital platform with easy-to-use navigation, you can give attendees:
With these tools, attendees can tune in to your virtual event anywhere, any time, while still learning more about what your university has to offer. For attendees, stakeholders, and speakers, a virtual event’s value skyrockets with near limitless and timeless platform capabilities.
Events held in higher education settings often come with some sort of networking. Whether that’s exchanging stories with your old college roommate at an alumni dinner, meeting your new classmates for the first time, or connecting with future employers and co-workers at a job fair, networking capabilities on your platform are what bring your attendees together.
With the right event management software, registration information and other data you’ve collected from your attendees can be used to intelligently match them based on mutual interests. With this automated process, new attendees can opt-in and receive connection recommendations.
Let your attendees choose to network through:
If your event involves vendors or career opportunities, set up virtual booths “around” your virtual event space and allow attendees to “visit” them and maintain the same face-to-face interaction they would have at a live event.
With concise profiles to give a summary of each attendee who opts in, foster networking at your event. Give your attendees a virtual networking experience they can’t forget by providing them with top-tier connections and an easy-to-use system.
Yawns and tired eyes can be an indicator a speaker is losing their audience. In the virtual space, capturing the attention of an audience is even more difficult. Not only does the speaker not see when they’re losing an audience, but it’s also hard to know if and when you’re sparking their interest.
Fostering engaging virtual and hybrid sessions may require more interaction between the audience and the speaker. Whatever event you’re holding at your university, prepare to utilize your mobile app to keep your attendees engaged and connected at your event.
Your mobile event app is increasingly important because nearly everyone owns a smartphone. Use that connectivity for:
With all of these capabilities and more at your attendee’s fingertips, speakers can communicate with attendees, attendees have access to each other, and you can communicate valuable information to different groups. Unlike an in-person event, you’ll begin to hope your attendees don’t put their phones down.
Pre-, during, and post-event surveys are the most common method used by event planners to collect attendee feedback. But let’s face it – while surveys are essential to improving future events, they aren’t always fun and exciting for attendees to fill out.
Whether you are planning your graduation, local alumni event, or your large fundraising gala you need to be able to track who attended and the success of each. Bottom line, you will at least be able to see whom you want to market to the following year and where you should put extra funds towards. This will help to show your department head or school president the value of your efforts.
Three important things to remember when building your event surveys are to:
Also, make sure to include input from any and all event stakeholders about their goals. What’s not important to you as the event planner, may be important to the person in charge of IT, social media, or even catering.
Consider creating different surveys for different attendee types, i.e. students, parents, alumni, etc. Each had a different experience at your event and their respective survey should reflect as such. Not only will these different groups feel like you care about their specific needs, but you can also use it as an opportunity to improve the event in as many areas as you can.
As surveys are usually optional, making them mobile-friendly is the key to making them convenient for attendees. When making your survey responsive, make sure to test and retest to ensure that everything works correctly and can be used on various devices. Remember that typing on a tablet or smartphone can be difficult, so create mandatory and important questions as either multiple choice or on a number scale. Don’t forget other design features like fonts, imagery, and scrolling that can all make or break the mobile experience.
Put your attendee surveys directly into your event app. Not only will they be even easier to find, but your surveys will also flow better and look more professional.
One of the most important parts of your higher education event is the data you gather. The importance of data gathering lies in measuring the success of your event with the data you collect.
A common theme in your event marketing strategy is how to align your goals with your team and with your university to bring in the right attendees and speakers and create the most success at your event. The data you collect from your event will tell you if your strategy is lined up with your goals.
When you think about collecting data, the right event management platform should be collecting it for you. By automatically gathering event data, you’ll be able to see what parts of your event were well received and what didn’t hit the mark.
Assuming you attracted the right kinds of attendees using your event marketing strategy, this event data will give you insight into your overall ROI.
Some important pieces of data to look at as you examine event success include:
Your event’s ROI may take different forms depending on your event goals. If your goal is matching seniors with professional careers, ROI may be measured by how many find jobs at your career fair. If it lies in training your staff to receive a specific certification, ROI may be measured in how many staff members receive their certification on time.
Whatever your goal may be, with event management tools tracking your data, you’ll be able to analyze overall engagement and determine how valuable your event was in real-time.
While ROI can take a monetary form, investment in the future of individuals at your university, whether student, staff, or alumni, will turn attendees into brand ambassadors for your program and university.
Using your event management platform’s visual dashboard, gain transparency into your data and see where to apply more value at your next event. Through automation and platform integrations, quickly see how you hit your goals.
As most higher ed planners know, not all events happen on campus, especially for alumni chapter events held in other cities. Therefore, more often than not, sometimes the first step in the event lifecycle is to source and book a hotel or venue.
Luckily, new technology allows event planners to streamline the entire venue booking process, from creating and sending RFPs to negotiations and finally signing on the dotted line.
You’d be surprised how many planners go into negotiations without knowing what value their meeting will bring to the venue. Hotels base meeting value on a specific set of criteria. Focus on these key-value generators, and your bargaining power grows:
Venues are constantly working to complete their occupancy puzzle. A minor adjustment to your dates may fit your group perfectly into one of the venue’s holes. As an added bonus for you, the right hotel will often incentivize you by offering some special pricing and cost savings in return for your flexibility.
Meeting history is an element of your sourcing and booking process that can often be overlooked. Make it a point to call out your past performances (ideally within the last two years or so), and you’ll be surprised at how attentive your hotel partners will be – not to mention the offers that will come in as a result. This also increases credibility. Hotels receive hundreds of meeting RFPs a week, and they’re constantly trying to find the meetings that not only have the greatest chance of booking but also are most likely to perform to the original specs in the RFP.
Items in your meeting history that drive value:
Whether your event is for students, parents, or alumni (or all of the above!), as onsite registration is the first touchpoint in the attendee journey, it’s key to make a good first impression. By creating an efficient process, you will help set a positive, professional tone for the rest of your event.
Things to add to your onsite registration experience:
For large events like student orientation, it may be a good idea to set up self-service kiosks near the registration desks where students can verify their own information and print their own materials.
If you want to save time and money, print attendee badges and other credentials onsite instead of prior to the event. Students and parents will not have to wait while your staff flips through hundreds (or even thousands) of pre-printed badges, and any last-minute changes or edits can be completed in-person.
Think of the valuable data you can track during the check-in/registration process. For example, it could be the number of students who used self-service kiosks over those who checked-in in person, during an event such as orientation. These numbers can help you decide the ratio of staff to self-service kiosks or to have a larger check-in space next year, but above it all, it can help guarantee that your students and parents are having the best onsite experience that you can provide.
Technology is a great tool for higher ed planners, but don’t forget about the human experience. Nervous students and parents will have lots of questions during an event such as orientation, so make sure you have enough staff to help guide them through check-in.
Engagement is crucial to the event experience, whether your attendees are there to be entertained, informed, connected, or are taking the next step in their academic journeys.
Attendees use your event mobile app as the central place for event information, personal agendas, networking connections, and more during your event, so it’s the perfect place to continue your engagement efforts.
Ways to utilize a mobile app for higher ed events:
For times when an exciting speaker comes to campus or to an alumni event, use an event app with live polling, voting, and Q&A capabilities so that speakers can incorporate these interactive elements during their presentation; even better if you can display the results on a large screen so that attendees can follow along. Bottom line, if attendees are on their mobile devices to participate in your event instead of just passing time, you’re doing it right.
Sending push notifications will keep them informed on last-minute announcements such as program changes.
Since people are typically more comfortable meeting new people in a group setting, there’s no better way for attendees to connect than through your mobile app. Make it simple for them to interact with one another with private messaging features where they can chat and share photos and videos of the event.
While engagement with event speakers and fellow attendees is important, don’t forget about using your app to maintain engagement with event organizers too. Getting feedback from attendees about event content and logistics is crucial to your event success and ROI. Make attendee surveys and questionnaires accessible by putting them directly into your mobile event app. Not only is it easier than distributing paper surveys or directing attendees to a forgettable internet link, but you will also be able to collect and review feedback and data quicker than ever before. Add your social media feeds directly in your app so users don’t have to leave it to get the latest updates.
Colleges and universities are special places, as the relationship between institutions and students starts way before they come to campus and long after graduation. Events are great ways to facilitate and grow these relationships and the right technology can help higher ed planners along the way.
Aligning your goals, marketing your event, executing seamless in-person, virtual, or hybrid experiences, and analyzing ROI may not seem possible if you're managing everything on separate data sheets and using manual processes.
However, with the right technology, you can create a professional event experience that will help you manage your event in one place, from start to finish.
This guide has taken you on a journey through the event lifecycle from start to finish and shown you how the latest technology can make a world of difference for higher education planners. The right software can give you all the essentials you need to make planning more efficient and events more successful, thus creating a stronger community for students, faculty, and alumni.