Less than two weeks ago we set off on an ambitious adventure: creating a virtual revisit day from the ground-up. Our aim: create robust content to help the private and independent schools that we serve, including an opening session, a panel of enrollment management leaders, four breakout sessions, and a virtual reception.
That meant that in less than eight working days, we needed to:
- Create five completely new presentations
- Recruit internal speakers and moderators
- Recruit a panel of external enrollment leaders
- Create a landing page for registration
- Build emails to let private and independent school administrators know about the event
- Create five Zoom meetings
- Create one Zoom webinar
- Create a Slack Community
Like I said, it was ambitious. But our team at SchoolAdmin, luckily, was completely game for the challenge.
We worked hard, we worked fast, and we learned new tools on the fly, all with the goal of giving our school leaders exposure to new technology, ideas to take to their own virtual yield events, and the chance to view a revisit day from the perspective of their newly admitted families.
Essentially, we had volunteered to run a real-life experiment to serve as the guinea pigs for our schools.
How did our first-ever Virtual Revisit Day go?
Since we poured our heart and soul into the event, it would bring me such joy to share that it was a success in every single aspect. However, that 1) would not be entirely true and 2) would deprive you of the opportunity to learn from the more challenging parts of the day.
Here’s what our planned agenda looked like:
While, as you likely realized, SchoolAdmin is NOT a school, we wanted to recreate content that would be familiar to the schools we serve, like a welcome from our “Head of School” (our founder and CEO, Nate Little), a “current student panel” (a panel with enrollment management leaders), an activities fair (concurrent “Choose Your Own Adventure” breakout sessions), and a closing reception.
What worked and…what didn’t
As many of you are seasoned event professionals by this point in your admission careers, I think we can all relate to the notion that there’s always room for improvement, even with our best run events.
For this event in particular, we learned a lot VERY quickly, and I’m happy to share those lessons with you today so you can avoid the bad (and the resulting heart palpitations) and adopt the good as your schools’ host their own virtual revisit days and yield events.
Incentivize audience participation
Throughout the presentation, we incentivized audience participation by giving away three custom Yeti tumblers, including giving one away for participating in our icebreaker question (resulting in 80+ responses) and for asking questions for our panelists (25+ responses).
Your giveaway doesn’t have to be anything big or extravagant. Even as something as small as a couple of Starbucks gift cards, or a t-shirt with your school’s logo on it would be fantastic.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect
My volleyball coach always said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect,” and I would say this rule most certainly applies to events.
We are diligent in the preparation of our events at SchoolAdmin. In fact, we did two complete dry runs for our Virtual Revisit Day. Yet we still encountered all kinds of tech troubles. Why?
When we practiced, we did each breakout session one by one so we could all provide feedback on the presentation and delivery. However, during the actual event, the breakout sessions ran concurrently. And this is what precisely caused so many technical issues. I created and owned every Zoom Meeting under my single account and it turns out that Zoom does not like it when you run multiple events at the same time under one account. In fact, it can even end one live meeting to start another.🤦🏼♀️Sorry, y’all.
So now you understand why I say perfect practice makes perfect. Practice the event exactly as you’ll run it the day of your event. I.e., if your sessions will run concurrently, have volunteers go into the meetings at the same time.
Haste makes waste
It’s no secret that we’re all moving fast right now to pivot from once-planned physical revisit days and welcome events to virtual formats. We have to be adaptable and willing to take new chances and try new things at a time like this—and warm up to the idea of imperfection in the name of trying new things.
That imperfection, that willingness to fail, however, is not a license to be careless. Case in point: our initial email for the event contained the wrong date for the event. Our team was moving quickly, and we each had a different date in mind. Rather than taking a beat to double-check with each other, we both kept sprinting in our own directions to bring the event to fruition.
I urge you to take a breath, double-check your work at every step, and then continue sprinting.
Simple may be better
While you may be tempted to bring the entirety of your typical in-person revisit day online, resulting in one lengthy (and complicated) event, take a moment before committing to such a large undertaking. Start your process by establishing what your goals are for your event. If you can accomplish those with a less complicated event, do so. I saw this post from Lawrenceville on Twitter, which shares a series of Google Hangouts, each on a different night, each on a different topic. BINGO. Simple. Straightforward. And, I’d venture to guess, effective.
Plan your internal communication channels ahead of time
Events—whether they’re in person or virtual—are always an adventure. No matter how meticulously planned or how many contingency plans you’ve outlined, there’s always the potential for a curveball to throw you off your game.
Luckily, if you’re in the same office (or even the same building) it can be relatively easy to solve this by rushing to your co-worker, talking through your plan, and putting the solution into place. But when your team is remote and distributed, not so easy.
With that in mind, I’d recommend establishing your main channel of communication ahead of time, as well as potentially a backup/plan B. Our team, thankfully, had created a Slack channel for our internal team that allowed us to troubleshoot on the fly as a group.
Show your cards
We publicly positioned this event as an experiment, offering to be the guinea pigs for the schools we serve. Of course, I wish it had gone flawlessly and provided you only examples of things you SHOULD do for your next event. Turns out, though, that learning what not to do can be equally as valuable.
Everyone—including the families served by your school—understands that we’re operating in unprecedented times. I believe that now, more than ever, we all have the leniency to take big swings and try new things, even if the outcome is not as perfect as we had hoped.
If you’re honest in this potential for imperfections from the beginning, your families are more likely to be understanding if things don’t all go according to plan.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
This last one is the toughest pill for me to swallow. I hate providing anything less than an excellent experience for our audience. We don’t want to just create content. We want to create “million-dollar content” that truly helps you—and the private and independent schools you work at—thrive.
When we deliver anything less than perfect, I take it to heart. This is an area where I’d advise you to do as I say, not as I do. We’re all learning new tools and approaches in this crazy, new virtual world. We’re all balancing a new (and much fuller) plate of priorities (I’m looking at my newest co-workers, my two-year-old and two yappy dogs). And we’re all doing our best. Things happen. Issues arise.
A former colleague used to say, “You either win or you learn.” Don’t look at mistakes as failures. Do your best. Build contingency plans. Care deeply. Prepare as best you can. Then go with the flow.
Try, fail, learn, repeat
For those that attended our Virtual Revisit Day, thank you. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for the notes sharing how much you learned. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our knowledge, and in this case, learn right alongside you.
It’s our pleasure to serve you, and to serve as a resource as we all look to learn, grow, and adapt to this “new normal”. As it’s one of our core values at SchoolAdmin, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add in: Try, fail, learn, repeat. You’ve got this. We’re here to help!
An afterword on specific technology pointers
P.S. I realize I kept those lessons relatively categorical, but I also wanted to share some very specific technology pointers that I learned along the way that may also be helpful to you.
- We received a lot of questions during the event on the use of Zoom’s Virtual Backgrounds. It’s super simple. Here are instructions to use it yourself.
- You can not have concurrent Zoom Meetings run by the same host. If you want to run concurrent sessions, set each of them up under a different Zoom account (ideally the person hosting said session).
- In a Zoom WEBINAR, only the host can set up gallery view. In a Zoom MEETING, the attendees must select gallery view themselves.
- If you want to host a virtual panel on a Zoom Webinar, have anyone not on the panel turn off their video and select “hide non-video participants”.
- For the virtual networking reception, we used Zoom Breakout rooms, which automatically moves attendees into separate rooms. This feature is AMAZING and much easier than going to individual Zoom meetings. However, it does not allow attendees to select which breakout room they’d like to attend (i.e. you can’t set up a different breakout room for each topic and have attendees select which room they’d like to attend).
Watch the recordings from our Virtual Revisit Day introduction, panel, and breakout sessions to learn more about embracing change, adapting to the new landscape, managing your team, and growing enrollment virtually.