By Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
5 minute read
Every year around this time, I find myself saying the following statement a lot. If you want to generate more deposits and commitments from your admitted students, incorporate more storytelling and become a better storyteller.
Storytelling is powerful for a number of reasons. For starters, our brains are wired to forget a lot of facts and figures, but we remember good stories. Facts tell, and stories sell.
I used to start a lot of the training workshops I lead with a picture of myself standing next to Casey Mears at a Nascar race – it’s the one up above. I’d share all kinds of details about a unique experience that my wife Jen and I had with Casey and the Target race team back in 2005 at Texas Motor Speedway. My goal was to use that story to reinforce how important experiences, emotions, and personalization are in student recruitment. As I’ve explained in previous articles, emotional engagement and personalization are critical factors in decision-making.
To this day, I still have admissions and marketing professionals who tell me they remember some or all of that story.
Telling the right story at the right time can help students, parents, and families feel better, feel connected, and alleviate different fears, including fear of the unknown. And when your current or former students tell compelling stories, it’s another form of influencer marketing.
Think about it. Every single person on your campus, including you, has a story. And everything can be a story.
The problem is, outside of your own story, how many of those other stories do you know?
I’m not saying you need to know every single story on your campus. But if you’re an admissions counselor reading this, think about your territory right now and the different groups of students, parents, and families that you work with. Think about the college search process and the common challenges, pain points, and fears that arise for a lot of students. Think about the objections you get every year. And think about the big reasons why students are continuing to choose your school over your competition. Those are some of the stories that you need to gather. Be strategic about it.
Building off that last point, one of biggest things prospective students at all stages struggle with during their college search is the ability to differentiate what makes one school different or better from another…especially if their profiles are similar.
The answer is the stories you, your colleagues, your current students, your alumni, and your faculty tell. Do they create stronger emotions and feelings than the stories your competition is telling? Because if you’re both saying we have small class sizes, professors who care, a welcoming community, and experiential learning, you won’t stand out enough no matter what numbers you add alongside those facts.
It’s about what all those things look like on your campus, and what they could look like for a prospective student, that creates value and differentiates your school.
If you’re with me so far and now you’re wondering where you can find more impactful stories to share during your 1-1 conversations, your events, and in your recruitment communications, here are a few ideas.
Besides your own story, you need to connect with current students, alumni, and other staff on your campus. You could even connect with the parents and families of those current students if you were looking to share a story with parents of your admits about something like distance from home or even safety during the COVID pandemic.
Now that you know what kinds of stories to seek out and where to find them, here are four keys to telling great stories.
- Know the purpose for telling a story. Just because you think it’s a great story doesn’t mean the student or parent will. What’s your why? Are you articulating that why to the other person? And how will hearing or reading this story help them?
- Details and words matter. Less generalizations, facts, and figures, and more descriptive details, context, and words that evoke emotion and action.
- Make it relatable, authentic, and feel personal. You need to connect the dots and explain the value of different things in a way that feels personal.
- Ask them how they feel about it. Was the story helpful? Can they see the benefit of what you shared? Does it help them understand how it makes your student experience better?
Let me give you a fifth key if you’re incorporating storytelling in your emails or letters. Use direct quotes as a way to punctuate the key point you’re trying to make.
If say you’re trying to help your admitted students understand how your school will help them with the academic and social transition to college, insert one or more quotes from current students about the impact different programs and people had on their transition.
So here’s my challenge to you – Carve out some time this week, this month, or this spring to seek out more stories. What you’ll find, as many counselors have told me, is that gathering stories isn’t super time consuming. In fact, don’t be surprised when one student gives you a lead on another student or friend to contact about their story.
Finally, I also want to encourage you to consider developing a shareable story bank in your office. As different stories are gathered, make them available to your colleagues so that more people can benefit from them. That way everybody wins. If you’re looking for more ideas on how to create your story bank, go ahead and connect with me here.
When you effectively tell stories it will create a connection that makes it easier for the other person to take action.
And remember, storytelling isn’t a budget item or something that requires a certain number of years of experience. You have complete control over if and how you use this tool.
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And if you found this article helpful, go ahead and forward it to someone else on your campus who you think might also benefit from reading it.