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How To Host A Successful Open House

By: Aylin Dunham
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Open houses are being hosted by 93% of institutions to market their offerings and recruit prospective students. With current enrollment rates down by 13%, the stakes are higher for admissions and recruiting leaders to find creative ways to “show off” their campuses and programs.

Additionally, many students are considering remote open houses rather than visiting the multiple campuses they’re considering. Distance and financial constraints make it impossible for every student to make these trips in person.

Open house events are being hosted differently now, as there’s an increased need to make them more enticing to prospective students and engage individuals remotely. Considering these challenges, institutional leaders must design events that are delivered with greater access and creativity in mind. When executed in a way that accounts for modern audience expectations and the shift to remote, open houses can be the ideal forum to attract students and reverse the trend of enrollment declines. Here are 5 tactics to take your open houses to the next level:

1. Make sure your content is accessible.

In a virtual environment, it’s challenging to know exactly who will be in attendance. Consider making all of your content accessible to account for a diverse audience base, including students who may be Deaf or hard of hearing. More than half of students don’t report their disability needs – and are less likely to do so for an open house – so it’s up to recruiters to take a proactive approach and deliver an accessible experience that all students can participate in.

Tools like captioning can help deliver more equitable experiences for those with disabilities and provide a more engaging event for students and families attending.

“You don’t want to miss out on a students’ interest in your university. Rather than a serious presentation, students now want to tune in to an exciting and inclusive event. Adding captions to your open house can help engage them more,” explained Spencer Kirschner.

For your open house, you’ll want to seek out a captioning solution that uses professional transcribers. Automatic captioning solutions alone aren’t always accurate and can be riddled with misspellings and grammar errors that can make your presentations look unprofessional. Companies like AST can deliver 99% accurate captions by using specialized teams of transcribers with experience captioning events such as open houses.

Image of two young men looking at a laptop together.

2. Offer both in-person and virtual ways to attend.

With many students unable to travel to campuses, schools are now implementing hybrid open houses to allow prospective students to participate both virtually and in-person.

“Schools like Columbia University are really prioritizing making their open houses more accessible. They weren’t attracting enough students to their in-person events, so they really had to develop a more inclusive and engaging virtual experience,” said Kirschner, Customer Success Manager, AST. Kirschner is working with institutions across the US on their virtual events and accessibility needs.

With the right technologies, hybrid open houses offer remote students the opportunity to engage with presenters and attendees as they would in-person. Platforms like Zoom allow students to share and comment during an event, submit live questions to presenters and participate verbally through video.

Other technologies like captioning can also help increase engagement and make your open houses more accessible. When using captioning tools from a partner like AST, you can give audience members a visual aid that streams captions in a separate window. This stream helps offer access to prospective students with disabilities and delivers a more meaningful experience to international students who are watching in their non-native language.

3. Make the experience interactive.

Make your open house more engaging by customizing the experience for student participants. An easy way to do this is to divide students into smaller breakout rooms in platforms like Zoom, GoToWebinar and Livestorm. You can group them into smaller rooms based on their program interests, admissions concerns and general questions.

Moving students into these smaller groups will allow you to talk with them on a more intimate level, address their questions directly and share pertinent information not explained in the main session. Making the viewing experience more interactive will not only help students feel more connected but keep them more engaged throughout the session.

4. Facilitate two-way conversations between speakers and attendees.

Don’t let your open house be a series of talking heads. Great open houses also provide students and their families with the opportunity to participate and engage during a presentation. Make your presentation more exciting for your audience by facilitating a two-way conversation and invite students to participate by discussing their thoughts and asking questions live.

When using web conferencing for your open house, you can also incorporate live polling to keep your finger on the pulse of your audience’s sentiments, concerns and priorities. 71% of virtual event planners report that polling is an effective way to keep participants engaged. Another fun way to facilitate more participation is to set up a breakout room with a peer who is currently a student to meet and chat with prospective students.

Close up image of a person typing on a laptop.

5. Engage attendees through both live and pre-recorded videos.

On the day of your open house, you’ll likely present some pre-recorded content, such as a campus tour or welcome video. If you haven’t already, consider recording these videos for your event to make sure they’re delivered smoothly in real-time. 61% of event planners use video recordings for their presentations to help keep audiences more engaged.

When planning for your open house, make sure to record the presentation itself. You can use the recording to provide student attendees with an on-demand video of the open house, which can be used as a reference for them to look back to and share with others.

47% of students look at websites when considering colleges. To increase the reach of your open house videos, you’ll also want to post video recordings of them. You can use these videos to add more content to your website and cut clips from them to make new videos as well. Adding captions and transcripts to these videos can also increase their reach and improve your site’s SEO by making them searchable online. Prospective students are more likely to find your video if they’re able to search with keywords that appear in your transcripts.

Image of three students looking at their laptop screens together.

Use tech to modernize your open house experiences

Hosting a successful open house can be time-consuming, but working with an essential partner like AST can help. AST can assist you in delivering more accessible experiences to students with disabilities and better engage all students by providing captioning and other helpful tools that take open houses with virtual components on Zoom or YouTube Live to the next level.

AST offers reliable captioning and transcription tools to institutions like Princeton University, Syracuse University and the University of Arizona to better engage students through live events and marketing videos on their sites. Contact us to learn how we can help support your open house efforts this spring.