"I'm only here for my parents."
I've heard this phrase utterred hundreds and hundreds of times over the past 25 years. Event organizers put in lots of effort to create the best experiences for graduates. Sometimes, however, guests of graduates are even more important. Commencement marks a moment that can be more significant to parents than it is to the graduate themselves. Parents make huge sacrafices so that their offspring have the tools to achieve in life. Many graduates are the first generation in their families history to obtain a degree. At Arizona State 26% of their enrollment is first generation as opposed to 18% a decade ago. Here's some things you can do to enhance graduation experience for guests and make it as exceptional as the moment in their family history.
Student Ambassadors - Meet and Greet
I've been to nearly 10,000 ceremonies in the past 25 years all over the world and the one thing I know for sure is that families are anxious on arrival. Many of them haven't been on campus before, particulalry parents of international students. If you leave them to their own devices the anxiety levels go up. We all like a friendly face to help guide us.
Well trained and friendly Student Ambassadors who work alongside 'long-in-the-tooth' security teams provide a great experience for guests on arrival. Don't let your guests have to figure out where to park on large sprawling campuses. Don't leave guests stranded at bus stops and taxi drop offs. You'd be surprise how often this happens. Another great tip is to be at central transport hubs in town even before they arrive at the venue. Train stations in city centers, for example. And whilst there are benefits for guests there's big benefits for Ambassadors too.
Make sure your Student Amabassadors are at far entrances, car parks, walkways and intersections away from the main throng. This is when your guests need their most guidance. Once they're at the venue it's much easier for them to understand what's going on but they still need assistance. And the number one question accross the globe... "Where's the toilet/loo/bathroom/washroom/dunny/lavatory?"
Give a good social media experience
Create a social strategy for parents, friends and relatives of grads. Encourage them to follow and post to the commencment hashtag. Create content opportunities such as photo booths. Maximize your social reach opportunities by giving them access to personalized on-stage videos of their graduates.
Use good signage to improve experience
You'd be surprised at how poor signage can be at some graduation events. Quite often it is non-existent. Sometimes the only signs that can be seen are provided by third party vendors such as photogrpahers, and gown companies. Clear accurate signs improve the attendee experience and have a significant positive impact on wellbeing. Walk the routes your graduates and their loved ones will take. You can research one of your ceremonies by having your Ambassadors guide people and make notes of the routes that they've taken. Next time you can sign them. Think about what happens if they pull up to the taxi rank or get off at a bus stop. Would it be obvious what the next step is?
Water, water everywhere...
It's a simple thing to offer. Give your Student Ambassadors small bottles to give out to guests on arrival. It's a good welcome as they step out of their cars or congregate in certain areas waiting for family. It's a way of showing that you care for their well being. It's a way to relax them. It's hospitatliy that calms and doesn't cost a fortune. If you go own label you get all the advantages of great branding that goes with promotional products.
Open the venue doors
The amount of times I've seen empty lobbies and foyers with shut doors whilst guests have been kept outside in the rain, snow and beating sun is incalculable. It's so unwelcoming. Guests are being physcially excluded before they've even attended. Imagine if we just left people on our doorsteps instead of inviting them into the house. People like to feel they belong. More often than not these guests are the early birds. They're early because they're keen. It's significant to them. Show them some love! Common sense and your Health and Saftey guides will allow you to make sensible decsions on how many people to let in. But do let them in. There's only a few cases I've seen where guests coming into the lobby/foyer areas acuatlly affects the set-up area inside the venue itself.
Notice the elderly and frail
For some elderly guests it's a long day, lots of travel and a good deal of time on their feet. They may not be wheelchair bound but it can be exhausting. Make sure your Ambassdors have a radar that notices them. Keep fold-up chairs nearby and then offer them up if you think it would help. Just asking the question creates a better experience. Offer an arm to lean on, carry a bag or look after a jacket. Stay with an elderly person if their family go to get the car. All these little human things cost nothing but create a warm experience.
What do you think? Has your university or college got some simple tips to make the experience better without costing the earth? Let us know in the comments below!