Dec. 11, 2020
Jackie Weber, Saint Louis University (MO)
Thomas Patterson, University of Arkansas
Nearly nine months ago, everyone’s world was rocked with the Coronavirus pandemic. As higher education professionals we were walking the delicate line of caring for the health and safety of students, while trying to continue “business as usual.” Little did any of us know exactly how much the pandemic would affect our programs, services, and the experience of our students, and “business as usual” might be a thing of the past.
Fast forward to December and we have all become quite savvy with the use of Zoom, Airmeet, Socio, and (insert HERE the name of any technology you’ve learned since March). As educators, we’ve learned how to deliver education and engagement in a different way, and our associate member friends have adapted to produce their art in innovative ways. Of course, right when we figure it out, students start showing a new version of pandemic burnout: Zoom fatigue. Students are now learning, socializing, and visiting loved ones with the same technology we are utilizing for programming. Inviting them to open their laptops for another speaker, concert or comedian after six hours of class, virtual dinner with their best friends, and a 45-minute Zoom with grandma might not be our best strategy for maximum engagement.
Since there isn’t a handbook for “Programming During a Pandemic” we now have the opportunity to write our own. Let’s face it, professionals who came before us didn’t have to figure this out, and there isn’t a script for the right way to do it. (Note: That also means, there isn’t a WRONG way to do it, either!) Now, we get to do what we do best - find super creative ways to engage students. It’s time to take our “business as usual” programming and give it a twist. Here are some ideas to spice up your event to create “can’t miss” programs:
Jazz up your program with a special guest host! For instance, if you’re hosting an online trivia night through Kahoot or Zoom, invite campus celebrities (SGA officers, campus administrators, spirit squad members, etc.) to host a round of the event. Consider providing “spotlights” about other programs happening on campus, or including fun facts about your host.
Student Q&A video submissions: For a larger scale speaker or special guest lecturer, instead of students submitting questions via a digital form, invite them to submit video questions instead. During the actual event you can show these pre-submitted videos as part of the program, thus creating a new incentive for students to see if their video will be featured!
Non-Zoom production: Take a step away from Zoom and explore other online production platforms! As NACA members, we have numerous professional connections to folks who can help us produce our programs...so take a chance and try something new. Utilizing these production companies can create a fresh and festive environment in which you can add a “twist” to the show. Toss in some random audience spotlights during the event, or have a DJ jump on during intermission to host an impromptu dance party! The possibilities are endless! There are even outlets that allow you to engage through social media, so you can increase your audience reach and overall engagement.
Hybrid programming, the best of BOTH worlds: When wanting to host an “in-person” event but not feeling it is safe to do so, consider a hybrid “take home and go” style event! For example, you can support local businesses and order flowers in bulk, create flower arrangement kits (flowers, ribbons, vase, instructions) for distribution, and students use their kit to participate in a DIY Flower Arrangement class at home.
Plan FUN intermissions: If you’re hosting a longer event such as a lecture or conference style seminars, add in stretch/dance breaks. Have a pumping playlist ready to get the participants off their feet and away from the screens (added bonus if participations submit song choices for your playlist)! You can even include live competitions into your event breaks, like a rock-paper-scissors tournament, or quick trivia!
Spotlight your own campus talent: Want to get more students involved with your online programming? Instead of booking a regional artist, reach out to local musicians and invite them to do a social media takeover! They can show your followers the day in the life of a student musician and can end the night with an hour long music set!
Who doesn’t love a good theme? Depending on what type of event and theme you select, you may hit a new demographic of participants while adding a fun new twist...bonus points if you include a costume contest! Hosting a socially distanced movie night? Have participants dress to the theme of the movie (Mean Girls, Harry Potter, holidays, etc.).
Utilize your existing campus network: Hosting an online event but want to reach more people? Work with your campus partners to host in-person and socially distanced watch parties. This is a great way to build connections with Residential Life on your campus, by inviting living communities to watch areas in their residence halls, while also co-sponsoring an impactful program!
While these ideas might not be a perfect fit for you or your campus, we hope that they get the ideas and creative juices flowing. There are many ways you can modify your events to provide the perfect programming twist! We would love to hear from you. Give us a shout and let us know how your campus is “twisting” your programs! Tag @thenaca.
Jackie Weber serves as the director of student involvement at Saint Louis University (MO). She has been involved with NACA since attending her first regional conference in 2003, and currently serves as the Block Booking Coordinator for NACA® Mid America. Jackie loves being involved with NACA, where the events and people feel like home.
Thomas Patterson serves as a graduate assistant for the Office of Student Activities at the University of Arkansas. He has been involved with NACA since serving as the Block Booking Graduate Intern for NACA® Central in 2019, and continues to serve as a graduate intern for the NACA® Central Regional Leadership Team. Thomas has loved being a part of NACA and thanks his Block Booking family for guiding and leading him throughout his volunteer experience.
Related Professional Competencies: Cultivating a Sense of Belonging, Event Support, Technology