University Events: How To Effectively Engage Your College Student Audiences

University events give keynote speakers, lecturers, and entertainers the opportunity to engage with a unique audience. College students can be some of the most engaged event attendees, but understanding what separates them from other kinds of audiences is crucial to getting the most out of your events.

Between the particularly severe impact of the pandemic, shifting demographics, technology preferences, and social values, there’s a lot to take into account as you plan to effectively captivate your college student audience at university events. These five tips are a great place to start.

1. If You Can, Make It Digital

Generation Z grew up with more technology than any generation before them. According to a Barnes & Noble College survey of 13-18 year-olds, students expect technology to play an instrumental role in their learning experience. In order to accommodate these preferences, university events can feature digital handouts in lieu of physical ones and can incorporate video elements into speeches and presentations. Gen Z is known as the generation of social media, so utilize platforms like Twitter to connect with attendees before and after the event.

2. Info-Dumping Is Out

Living in an increasingly fast-paced world and having an unprecedented access to information means that this generation’s attention span can be shorter. “Gen Z” is constantly bombarded with information online, so it might be difficult to retain the intended message from a speaker if the format does not grab — and keep — their attention. To boost attentiveness and participation, try including conversational experiences in presentations and keynotes. This can give students time to process and question what they have just learned.

  • Utilizing breakout groups is a great way to keep Gen Z engaged and learning. Your university events can have groups through zoom and in person.
  • Q&A sessions can make students feel heard and allow for real-time feedback on the presentation. Try switching between in-person and chat questions to keep virtual and remote attendees engaged.

For more ideas on how to engage participants in a virtual audience, check out How to Make Virtual Events Interactive.

3. Authenticity Is Key

An EY report stated that 92% of Gen Z students believe that being authentic and true to oneself is extremely or very important. Gen Z audiences are quick to spot insincerity or phony attempts at relatability. For example, using slang or participating in trends to seem “young and cool” is often not taken well by this generation. Know the media they consume and how it relates to your topic; look into the social change movements (Black Lives Matter, gun violence, mental health) that they care about; and understand the contemporary challenges they face and what matters to them.

4. DEI Matters

According to an article from the Washington Post, one in six Generation Z adults identify as LGBTQ+. When planning how to address the audience, inclusive language is key. Avoid gendered phrases and replace them with a gender neutral phrase. It’s extremely important to this generation, and in general, to make speeches and presentations accessible. If you are showing videos or pictures, make sure you have captions and alternative text. There are even programs to caption your presentation as you speak. Check out Building A More Inclusive Event Industry with Keely Cat-Wells for more on this subject.

5. Get To Know The Campus

Gen Z is on track to be the most highly educated generation, with 57% of 18 to 21 year-olds currently in or having already graduated from college according to Timely MD. Even though many college students may share similar generational values, identifying what makes each campus unique can really strengthen your connection to the audience. Begin your university events by focusing on the population, identity makeup, and political leanings can give you a better idea of who you’re addressing.

Speaking on university campuses is a chance to present to some of the most engaged audiences you’ll ever encounter. The most successful university speakers are the ones who do their homework (pun-intended) and consider what makes today’s college students unique and how to tailor their messages accordingly. The suggestions we’ve laid out here are a great starting point, and if you’re interested in more information on how to fine-tune your approach, feel free to contact AAE.

Avery Tyson:
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