As you begin your virtual student panel evolution, we want to help you find as much success as possible. By hosting student panels virtually in the same standard format as has been used for in-person sessions, you are missing out on the opportunity to engage your student audience in the authentic and trendy format they so desire. We must work to transform our understanding of student panels and begin to utilize creativity and intention when sharing student experiences. This is the difference between a successful virtual student panel and a virtual student panel that simply replicates what you’ve always done in person. To help you start, we have identified 4 key tips and tricks for success, backed by the successes and failures our team has seen over the past year and a half of virtual student panels.

Keep student panels to a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 45 minutes

High schoolers’ attention spans are shorter than you would think. While it may sound great in theory to host an hour-long session to address every single question that comes in, Niche has found that 79% of students will not attend a session that is advertised to run longer than 45 minutes. Your audience will start to dwindle 15-20 minutes into the event and by marketing a shorter session length, you are likely to see a larger audience turnout than if your session was advertised to last a full hour. It’s better to leave your prospective students wanting more, offering shorter, segmented content and giving them an opportunity to consume content on their own. If you are a PQE client, this is a great way to drive on-demand content viewing. Whatever you decide, make sure to follow up after the event with any questions your panelists do not have the chance to answer. Whether that’s an answer coming from your admissions office, or even directly from one of your student ambassadors, you want to make sure that your prospective and admitted students do get the answers they need, even if it was not in real time.

Listen to what your audience tells you they want to know

When choosing a virtual event to attend,  83% of students polled by Niche wanted to hear about student life and activities. In addition, finding the right “fit” has become one of the most critical factors not only in the yield phase but now also in the application process, according to a recent study done by Naviance. Knowing that prospective students are assessing fit at each stage in the funnel, and that these students want to know more about student life on your campus, how do you show them that your university is indeed the right “fit”? Begin highlighting your current students’ experiences as often as you can, specifically those students who embody what your school is all about. Yes, information sessions are still critical. Yet, gaining a greater understanding of what life is truly like firsthand, both inside and outside of the classroom, is just as important.

When preparing for a panel, you will want to provide your student ambassadors with a few commonly asked, prepared questions to spark conversation amongst your team. However, once your audience starts asking your panelists their own questions, your focus should shift towards incorporating what the audience wants to know in live time, even if that requires your panelists to think on their feet. Another tool to gauge your audience’s curiosities in real time, especially if you are hosting your live events through our Conduit Platform, is to send out a poll prior to or even during your live events to see what your attendees want to know more about. When a current student personally responds to a prospective student’s question, those in the audience feel as if their curiosities matter, and that your school’s current students both relate to them and care about them.

Coach your student ambassadors on how to carry themselves virtually

Imagine showing up for a webinar you were stoked to attend on a topic you loved, sitting at the edge of your seat waiting for an event to start, only for the panelists to appear on camera and seem as if they would rather be anywhere else but here. If your panelists do not seem hyped to be on camera with one another talking about all the amazing opportunities they have received at your university, how do you expect your audience to get psyched to apply to or even attend your university?

Living in a virtual world has left many starved for interpersonal cues, and while not everyone can become an Oscar winning actor, a few adjustments to the way one communicates can go a long way. According to Forbes, sitting up straight and alert, remembering to look at the camera, and engaging through proper body language and voice inflection can make an exponential difference. We must invest in our student panelists and coach them to bring more focus to their communications skills, especially how they will be perceived on camera by the actions that they take, or don’t take. This includes teaching the importance of preparing proper background, lighting, and video/audio quality. One of the best hacks our team has seen to show panelist excitement is to start the webcast a few minutes early and invite your audience to experience the natural conversation happening between your students before the event starts. Regardless of if the panelists are best friends or just meeting each other for the first time, this gives your ambassadors an opportunity to get comfortable before they start answering the serious questions.

Think outside the box, and tap into your students to add interactive elements to your panels

Another great way to stay trendy and authentic is to make the student experience as entertaining and unique as possible. You want your audience to be as excited about your content as they would be about the newest season of their favorite Netflix show. Trust your student ambassadors. Let them identify the panel topics, invite guest speakers, and be creative when they can be. Your student body knows what TikTok trends are in, what social media topics are woke, and of course, what students want to know about this generation’s college experience. To get started, focus on amping up the titles and topics of your upcoming presentations. Two unique examples our team saw last fall: a wing eating contest inspired by YouTube’s “Hot One’s” and a Halloween pumpkin painting challenge that involved an audience vote. Are you looking to highlight student housing options? Have your current students showcase their rooms in a dorm transformation, glow up type of style. Do you want to showcase the vast eating options you have on campus? Why not host a taste test competition with current students or even a cooking class with your dining staff. Another successful strategy is to host a consistent series of student lead events. This way, your audience knows to tune in on the same day and time every week. As an idea, if you were looking to highlight your most popular student clubs and organizations, you could set up a weekly “late night show” inspired series where student ambassadors have the opportunity to interview a “guest star” from each of your clubs’ executive boards.

In Summary

Clearly, not all student panels are the same. There are so many more tips and tricks to be inspired by, but we hope that these will act as a starting point to catalyze more creativity for your future engagement events. It’s time to reach beyond simply replicating in-person legacy strategies, think outside the box, let your students pick the right topics, and bring the culture and opportunities of your campus to light.