Introduction

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.

This guide will take you on a journey through the event lifecycle from start to finish and will show 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 a college or university.


How to Create a Seamless Event Experience

College students laughing and cheering at an event held on campus

Source Your Venue for Off Campus Events

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.

Understand your event value

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:

  • Booking window
  • Date flexibility
  • Catering spend
  • Space-to-rooms ratio

Be open to flexibility

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.

Share your meeting history

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: 

  • Coming within 5% of your room block
  • Exceeding the food and beverage minimum
  • Making use of the full range of hotel services
  • Booking meetings or events 30-90 days out

The Registration Process

Creating a seamless registration process for attendees is one of the most important parts of the event lifecycle. Not only does a clear and easy registration process increase the number of people who complete it, it also creates a level of trust between attendees and the event organizers. Technology can play a key role in making registration easier to create and manage for higher ed planners, and it can create a more engaging experience for students and alumni registering for events as well.

Higher ed events that may require registration

  • The academic journey: accepted student days, orientation, graduation, open houses
  • On-campus events: guest speakers/lecturers, plays and concerts, sporting events, homecoming, parents’ weekends
  • Alumni events: reunions, local chapter events, meet ups, roundtables, networking
  • Fundraising: galas, auctions, golf/sport tournaments, online donation drives

Keep it simple

Once someone decides they want to attend your event, they want the registration process to be as quick and efficient as possible.

Keep the number of pages and forms to click through to a minimum.

Make your registration fields pre-loadable for returning attendees. Once they type in their email address, all their basic information will automatically be filled in.

Only provide questions that are relevant to them. Customizing questions by attendee type (student, alumni, parents, speakers, etc.) will streamline the process by only showing questions that matter to them.

Pay attention to details

Test and retest payment functions for your event, especially if you are accepting multiple currencies. Nothing causes more anxiety than when an attendee sees an error message after putting in their payment information.

Features such as confirmation emails and the clear display of refund and private policy information help build a level of trust between the organizers and attendees that will carry through the rest of the event process.

Make support and changes convenient

No matter how straightforward you think your registration process is, there are bound to be questions from attendees.

Provide contact information for support in an easily accessible area. Go even further by having a help chat window or include a link to FAQs on your event website.

Quickly and easily answering attendee questions can make the difference between having a committed attendee or one that finds an excuse not to register.

Consider linking your registration to your email marketing and send an email to someone who started a registration but didn’t finish it. If they left the process, give them a reason to come back with a follow up email that highlights a popular keynote speaker or exciting networking opportunities.

When allowing attendees to edit their registration information, make sure they can’t change details that have been solidified on your end, i.e. rooming information already sent to a hotel.

Including housing and travel options

A simple way to make travel management easy is to include housing booking options right in the registration form.

Things like room types should be presented in a clear and concise manner. If you are setting up registration for orientation day, this can be where your new students can add in their preferences for housing on campus for the weekend. With room sharing options, new students can either pick their roommates or be matched up randomly.

Think about using this function for your graduation as well. Parents can have the option to book their hotel accommodations within your system too. You can add in your hotel room block discounts or coupon codes for local hotels where your university or college has set up a deal.

No matter what you do, make sure you allow registrants to bypass this section if they are not ready to make their accommodation decisions, and allow them to go back and edit or add hotel needs at a later date.

Consider integrating your event registration software with a global distribution system (GDS). This will automate transactions between travel service providers and travel agencies, making it easier to offer your attendees the best travel accommodations and make all of your data seamlessly connect.

Managing Event Abstracts & Proposal Submissions

Depending on the event, higher ed planners may need to collect and organize proposals, abstracts, speaking slots, etc. From approving the content coming in to putting everything on your event website, it’s important to stay organized for your speakers and attendees.

Three things to consider when making your proposal management more efficient are to:

  • Be consistent with your submission guidelines
  • Create customized submission forms with specific permissions
  • Automate proposal approval to your online event agenda.

Aventri's Abstracts module

Be consistent with your submission guidelines

In order to get the best results from people submitting abstracts or proposals, be consistent with what you are asking them to include. You want all the information you need to properly compare and contrast prospective event content. This is also helpful when wanting to diversify your content.

Create customized submission forms with specific permissions

Require that attendees will only be allowed to submit an abstract or proposal after registering for your event. You want them to be committed to attending as well as get any payment issues out of the way, instead of constantly reminding them to do so after you’ve selected their outstanding speaking session.

Keep in mind that not all abstract submission forms should be the same. Customize different forms with different content and information requirements. That way, the proposal submission process is easy and concise for attendees, encouraging more of them to complete the process.

Automate proposal approval to your online event agenda

After selecting and approving your proposal submissions, you want to be able to publish your event agenda online as soon as possible.

Look for software that will automatically sort and publish approved proposals. Not only does that automate a tedious process, but you will be able to market your content faster, attracting even more attendees and grow your event.

Customized Templates Do you host an annual fundraising gala or do you crowdsource your commencement speakers? Building templates within your event software is the best way to add efficiency to your event planning. Whether you develop them yourself, or work with your software provider to build and customize them, you’ll be saving you and your team lots of time and energy.

Incorporating School Branding

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 website, campaign emails and surveys.

BYU grads dressed in cap and gowns

Be consistent across your entire marketing strategy

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.

Create and reuse templates with your branding

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.

Engaging Attendees with Email Messaging

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.

Keep the design simple

When you design event emails, keep it 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.

Include content that is short and personalized

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.

Maintain a proper timeline

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 amount of clicks and opens, so don’t forget those little, personalized details.


Virtual Student Events & Programs

Female student wearing headphones watching a webinar write notes study online with online teacher.

Have a Back-up Plan

From natural disasters and bad weather, to acts of terrorism and widespread health concerns, events like these are unpreventable and unexpected as they relate to events. Although their occurrence in the scheme of the things are rare, higher education event planners today need to have a backup plan in case their event is at risk of being canceled, postponed or have a large reduction in attendance. Including virtual components or having a partner ready to help your in-person event transition into virtual, is a must and may be the key to saving your event.

Engage Students Remotely

The coronavirus global pandemic rocked the meeting and event industry as large gatherings were not encouraged or even banned by authorities around the world. While several planners were forced to consider canceling or postponing their events, many turned to virtual event providers to save their events and still bring people together safely.

Don't let this period of "social distancing" stop you from connecting with each other and participating in events and programs. It’s important to remember that a successful virtual event isn’t as easy as clicking that button to go live and having speakers take turns presenting. There are a few steps planners should take throughout the virtual event planning process to ensure you achieve your goals and desired outcomes.

Prioritize Your Goals to Find the Right Virtual Events Partner

Virtual or not, no two events are the same, therefore not every virtual event provider will be right for you and your audience. Before searching for a platform, take the time to meet with your stakeholders to discuss your main objectives for your event, as note some key logistical factors such as event size, time, budget, etc. Keeping all of these factors and your goals in mind will be critical to securing the right virtual event platform. For example, if audience engagement is important to you, finding a platform with robust features on the attendee interface will be essential; and if having live content is the main focus of your event, one with high video quality will be the most significant.

Utilize Event Management Software

If your event is virtual, you still need some of the essentials to efficiently plan for it such as a dedicated event website and a registration process, as well as email marketing. When used together in one event management software platform, you'll save valuable time and money by having all your data and tools in one place.


Maximizing Event Engagement from Start to Finish

College students fully engaged at at event on campus

The Onsite Registration Experience

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:

Alerts: Get alerts when key guests check in. Is a critic coming to your theater department's play or has your commencement speaker arrived? Allow members on your team to be notified when they check in.

Seating: Hosting your fundraising gala, reunion or seated play? Allow guests to choose their seat during onsite check in. Give them options to sit with other registrants who selected a specific group during registration like a sports team or fraternity.

Offer self-service check-in/registration

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.

Print badges or name tags onsite

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.

An attendees badge coming out of a printer after being printed onsite at an event

Track data

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.

Drive Engagement with Your Event Mobile App

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:

Orientation: Put all the important information students need on important days like these right in the palm of their hand, campus maps, program schedules and push notifications will ensure they’ll never feel lost.

Reunions: Give alumni an easy way to connect with old friends, classmates and teachers will mobile tools such as attendee lists and private messaging. An app allows them to continue their connections post reunion.

Networking: Whether it’s a local alumni chapter event or an event where students are meeting alumni in their respective field, one to one matchmaking will help bring the right people together to advance their career or academic goals.

Use interactive elements like live polling, voting, etc

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.

Provide communication tools

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.

Get feedback every step of the way

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, you will 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.

Create a Memorable Networking Experience

Especially for alumni, networking is often a top priority for higher ed events. Therefore, then it should also be a priority for you to help create and promote engaging networking opportunities for your audience.

With technology constantly at your and your attendees’ fingertips, having these opportunities accessible online and on mobile devices is essential. Technology has also made it even easier to create personalized networking connections, as well as unique and fun activities for your entire audience.

There are three things to keep in mind when facilitating effective networking at your event:

  • Make it an easy and convenient option
  • Connect like-minded attendees through personalized content
  • Create interactive and fun networking initiatives to promote engagement

Make networking convenient

  • Allow attendees to sign up for networking opportunities and events upon registration.
  • Use a mobile app with several networking features, such as searchable attendee/sponsor lists with contact information and in app messaging.
  • Highlight designated meetings places across your campus on your app's virtual "floor plan" or send push notifications when they have reached a networking area.

Work to connect like minded attendees

  • During registration, ask questions to get to know them better to facilitate matchmaking.
  • If you are hosting an event for a specific school or discipline, match alumni up with students in the same field to create mentors.
  • Post-event allow communication through the app so that parents, students, etc., can connect with people they did not meet through private messaging to ask questions or exchange details.

Utilize gamification options

  • Get people excited about your event by adding things like a scavenger hunt through your mobile app. This gives them a fun way to explore your campus.
  • Display real-time results on digital signage to increase awareness and competition.

Grow Your Institution’s Community and Scale Success

Attendees fully engaged during a keynote session

Creating Accessible Event Surveys

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 who 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 is to:

  • Identify clear goals
  • Ask the right questions
  • Keep mobile technology in mind

Identify clear goals beforehand

  • What do you want to get out of your survey exactly?
  • Do you want to know attendee demographics, behavior or motivation?
  • Are there new features or technologies you’d like to use during events?

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.

Ask the right questions to the right people

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, you can use it as an opportunity to improve the event in as many areas as you can.

Keep mobile technology in mind

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.

Analyze Your Event Reports Like a Pro

Data is crucial to analyzing your successes and recognizing your failures at each event you organize. All in all, it’s the stuff that helps you create a better event experience for your attendees, as well as increase your event ROI. But if you’re collecting all this data, you need to make sure you’re reading it in the right way and often enough to get the most out of it.

Higher education planner reviewing and analyzing event metrics and kpis

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 who 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 things to keep in mind when analyzing your event data are to:

  • Make it easy to look at the big picture
  • Create a schedule to share with stakeholders
  • Benchmark your data year after year

Make it easy to examine the big picture

  • More often than not, you and your staff just need to look at the big picture to make sure everything is on track throughout the event lifecycle.
  • Select an event software that not only tracks important data, but also displays it in an easy to use, customizable homepage or dashboard is something to consider.
  • By having these numbers front and center whenever you access your reports will help your day to day operations run much smoother.

Set a schedule to share with your stakeholders 

  • Many different people behind the scenes need to stay abreast of the latest data from your event. Instead of worrying about who has access to what, automatically send the latest reports via email to all your stakeholders.
  • Schedule regular monthly, weekly or daily reports to be sent right to their email inbox however often they need it.
  • You can customize what data is sent whom; that way no one has to dig through information to get exactly what they need.

Benchmark data year after year

  • Analyzing current data is always helpful, but in order to truly create better events and to meet your goals, set up reports that compare data to previous years’ data.
  • Figure out what your definitive goals are and how exactly you want to improve your event ROI. That way, when it comes to pulling older data to compare to your current event, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for and have a better idea of when you want to accomplish your goals.

Conclusion

Colleges and universities are special places, as the relationship between institution and student 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.

Aventri Platform

With technology you can create a professional event experience, engage with students and alumni, and watch your events grow and succeed.

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Event Essentials for Higher Ed