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Storytelling: Bring the Voices of Your Institution to Life

To some, storytelling comes naturally, to others it’s learned; regardless, being able to craft a compelling narrative and hold an audience’s attention takes practice. Many cultures have mastered storytelling because stories can keep traditions intact, preserve memories, and conjure feelings that contribute to a lasting sense of place.

For admissions representatives, the goal of storytelling is to help prospective students imagine themselves at your institution. Stories are how prospective students and parents can connect with the college or university. So don’t just share impressive statistics; share the anecdotes that support the statistics. Why? Because people retain stories much longer than they can retain data.

According to research from the London School of Business, when people hear statistics alone, they retain 5-10% of what they hear. When the same statistic is coupled with a picture related to it, retention jumps to 25%. When stories are used to convey the same information, retention soars to 65-70%.

And think of the opportunities for storytelling with video and social media. But just like the oral tradition of storytelling, your video and social content must engage, emote, and energize your brand to make an impact.

The power of a good story also holds true for photos. Sure, it’s easier with smartphones to take really cool images of student and campus life, but those photos won’t leverage your institution’s brand if they aren’t telling a compelling story. So be thoughtful about what kinds of photos you post or give prominence to in your publications.

What is not storytelling is press releases, news stories, or promotions. While those communications are part of the business of higher education, they may not engage your prospective students and their families the way stories can, stories about the people of your institution, their experiences, and their perseverance when challenged.

What are storytelling best practices? Here are five tips to keep in mind:

  1. Know your audience. What are their concerns? What are their fears? What do they want? Think of stories that encompass these elements and result in positive or surprising outcomes.
  2. Make it relevant for that audience. Draw on stories of people in similar situations, facing similar challenges. Let them see themselves in your stories.
  3. Talk with, not at. Read your audience, let those listening feel comfortable to contribute or help steer the narrative.
  4. Connect on an emotional level. This can happen when you are present and open with your prospects and their families. Let them trust you as an advocate for your institution rather than a salesperson with an agenda.
  5. Keep stories on-brand. What are the core qualities of your institution? Weave those essential brand elements into every story you tell.

For most prospective students and their families, admissions recruiters represent the voice of your institution. Let your voice be the conduit to various voices across campus through the stories you tell. Work with your team on what stories resonate best and practice together until the stories take on a life on their own and sound a lot like your institution.

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Dana Evans,

More than 17 years of experience in higher education admissions, enrollment management, and marketing. Most of it spent in-house at various colleges, including Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, prior to joining Paskill Stapleton & Lord. Facilitates focus groups, conducts interviews, crafts research instruments, and develops observations and recommendations on the findings.

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