By Ethan Penland, Director of Admissions Services
4 minute read
Although I graduated with a degree in English, I’ve never been a big reader. But, this year, I have a goal to read at least a book a month.
The books I prefer reading are ones that bring a new perspective–self-improvement, if you will. As I’ve been reading each of those books, something stood out to me. With each beginning of a chapter, every author used storytelling to set the tone for that chapter. Without fail, every book had a chapter beginning with a story to create a connection to what they are about to discuss with the reader. What is most interesting to me is how I started looking forward to each chapter just to hear the next story–not so much the content of the chapter!
So why am I sharing this with you? I tell you this because storytelling should be your standard approach to communicating with your audience. Storytelling has the power to draw attention and keep it. Storytelling has the ability to bring the reader closer to the action. Storytelling inspires readers far more than declarative statements. Storytelling gives the reader context that they can understand and find relatively.
As powerful as storytelling is, I notice it’s rarely used in communications to prospective students and their families. Your communications should be more than delivering a sales pitch in an email, an invite to a campus event, or for readers to just consider applying to your institution. Your communications should have a purpose far more meaningful than trying to “sell” your institution. Your communications should be a vessel that delivers content and resources that make the reader 1. Want to open and engage with your messaging 2. Become loyal readers 3. Understand the context of the message in a way that relates to them.
Here are a few ways to approach storytelling for your future communications with prospective students and their families:
- Don’t be the main character. I read many communications from institutions that start out like this: “Here at Penland University, we have 50 majors to choose from.” The mistake is that those schools are making the message about their institution and not about the student. Instead, consider starting the message with the student as the main character. Let’s take the previous example and change it to be like this: “Students, like you, appreciate a variety of majors to discover in college.”
- Become the “resolution.” So, you may be asking where do you mention your institution? Your institution should be the resolution to the proposed situation or conflict. Take the scenario from the previous tip. How could your institution be the resolution to students wanting a variety of majors to choose from? Easy! “Here at Penland University, we have 50 majors to choose from!” By being the resolution, you make the content of your message about the student and how you can support them–not the other way around.
- Create chapters, not messages. This is a mindset I encourage many to consider. Stop looking at your messaging in your campaigns as scheduled messaging. Look at them as chapters of a bigger story. Consider the college search process of the story (plot) and consider each step a student has to take throughout the college search process as chapters (parts of the plot). Each chapter should try and connect to the next in order to tell the bigger story. By doing this, you create loyal readers and deliver relatable content.
- Include “Influencers.” I’m not a runner, at all. And if you simply tell me that running is good for me, I would meet you with a blank stare. But I remember going to see the movie Southpaw, and after the movie ended, I went home and ran 5 miles. Why? It wasn’t because it was “good for me.” Instead, I was influenced by someone else who gave me the motivation to take action. If you really want to make your messages be as relatable as they should be, include your current students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Share their testimonies and stories to create inspiration and motivation to take action. We find connectivity most through the stories of others. Gen Z students want to find connections through others, and this is how you can make it happen.
- Answer WHY. The most important aspect to giving a reader an understanding of your message is answering why. Let them know why this story is important, why it’s being sent to them, why they can benefit from it, and why your institutions should matter to them. Back to the original scenario–why does Penland University offer 50 different majors? “Penland University and our community believe that the more exposure students have to different ways of learning, ways of thinking, and ways of discovering their passions, the better a student is able to discover who they are. That is hard to do if our students don’t have variety, so that’s why Penland University offers 50 majors to choose from.”
Storytelling is a powerful strategy that can truly change the way students view the way they engage with your content. The more you bring into the fold, the better odds you have of creating loyal readers. And the more loyal readers you have, the more students are prepared to choose you as their future. And that, my friends, will be a story to share, too.
If you want to discuss any points or ideas discussed above, let’s connect. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Twitter. If you found this article interesting or helpful, please share it with someone else who may benefit from the read, too! Also, if you have any good book recommendations, please pass them along!
* The books I have read so far are Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Think Again by Adam Grant, The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, and Atomic Habits by James Clear.