Fall in Love with…Woodworking?
The room is crowded with people. There’s laughter in the air, and everyone is mingling. You’re at a table with a group of new friends, with one empty chair reserved for a special guest. A clear chime strikes in the air and an older gentleman joins your group, his hands rough and careworn. He offers a firm handshake to everyone and sits down. He places a stack of worn photos down, each one showing a beautiful piece of furniture.
“Well,” he says in a voice touched with gravel, “You ever wanted to build your own kitchen table?” The minutes tear by as he speaks like a poet about woodworking and asks and answers questions. You realize that yes, yes you indeed do want to build your own table, but you never knew where to begin.
The chime rings out again, and he moves on to a neighboring table. A young woman with rainbows in her hair takes his place. “Hi!” she chirps brightly, “did you know that I can totally teach you how to make the perfect French macaron?”
Welcome to Class Speed Dating
A flash of inspiration strikes as you have a sudden vision of a big, wooden table and a spread of fancy baked goods. “Oh yeah,” you think, “You bet I want to learn how to make perfect French macarons! And make the table to put them on!”
You’re smitten, and you haven’t even met the rest of the classes! How will you ever choose?
Speed Dating. Speed Networking. Speed Geeking. Whatever you want to call it, this fun and engaging open house format is designed to introduce people to your classes quickly, effectively, and with loads of inspirational personality.
Adopted by Many Organizations
Speed dating is believed to have been “invented” in the late 1990s as a way for singles to meet quickly. (It has a pretty cool origin story!)
While the format details vary, the idea is the same —to introduce people to each other with the help of a series of set, short timeframes (usually 3-5 minutes). At the end of each brief “date,” a bell signals that it’s time to move and meet the next person.
It was recognized that this format could be used to introduce people seeking a mentor, nonprofits seeking volunteers, and as a micro-presentation format for startups with bold ideas to present to investors. We figured that the same concept could be extended to introduce your students to new classes and created a framework for it!
Applying the Method
So, how do we use the successful methods of speed dating to promoting a class catalog at an open house? It’s not complicated when you remember that you might be introducing some to the next love of their life —a new skill, hobby, or even a future job! Recognizing that one-on-one meetups are probably not the most efficient for most education programs, we adapted the approach to use multiple timed, small-group presentations to inform, educate, and inspire.
Here are some considerations and suggestions to help you throw the best “date nite with education” ever!
Planning Is Everything
What classes will you be promoting?
Since the goal is a 3-5 minute presentation for each class, you will want to choose your featured classes carefully. If you have 10 to 12 classes, it could take roughly an hour or so for groups to experience them all. The kinds of classes you’re featuring may help determine the feel of the event as well.
What kind of event will this be?
Determine what kind of event you’ll have and the overall tone you want to set. An enrichment night could be very different from a workforce or professional development night. Will you have a festive party atmosphere, or will it be more business-casual? Will you have refreshments? Will it be a stand-alone event or just one part of a larger event?
Who are you inviting?
You need to invite guests to attend the event and meet your classes. Who will they be? Will you have them RSVP or drop in? How else will you advertise and promote the event?
What expectations will you set?
Since you want to be sure that attendees meet instructors and are introduced to classes, you will want to set clear expectations. How long will the event be? What is an attendee’s responsibility during the event? Will there be time for socializing or networking included? An event is an excellent chance to show your students what it will be like working with your organization!
How will you set up the event space?
If the event location is connected to your program, you will want to have it look incredible. Will you have displays of student work or class promotions? Where will the groups gather to listen to the presentations and meet your instructors? Will you have groups of chairs around a table? Small chairs in a circle? How close or far apart should the groups be to each other?
What will the takeaway be?
Of course, the goal is to fill these classes (and others!) Will you have a way for people to register during the event? What kind of flyers or handouts will you have for attendees? Will they be able to take notes about the classes they’ve “met” during the event? Can they register from their mobile devices during the event itself?
Who will present to the groups?
So long as you have the same number of presenters as there are groups, things will work out. You may want to consider a mix of presenters that includes past student evangelists, class instructors, and program staff as presenters. In addition to your presenters, you will need to have a host for the evening who lets people know when time is up and also who can tell the crowd how to register for the classes you’re offering.*
How will you help presenters prepare?
Great instructors are often natural presenters, but you’ll want to brief your presenters in advance so they know what is expected of them. Three minutes is a quick pitch, and five minutes will fly by if the presenter isn’t well prepared. How will you set them up to have a great experience engaging their prospective students?
Will you have a dedicated listener?
Because an event like this brings up lots of questions, it’s an excellent time to have someone actively listening to questions and comments around the room. These questions can help to improve your program offerings and even streamline your registration process. Who will your listener be? Will you embed someone in each group to take notes? Will you have someone walking through the event, taking it all in?
Are you ready for success?
While this sounds like a silly question because of course, you’re ready for success! But, you do want to be sure to have enough staff to help interested students sign up for classes right then. You may need to recruit and train some volunteers to lend a hand during the event. The last thing you want is for someone who’s fallen in love with a class to leave without registering!*
How will you follow up?
It’s easy to put away all the tables and then go back to all the usual tasks the next day, but following up with folks is an important part of the experience for everyone! Make sure you get their contact information so you can add them to your mailing list and then have a plan to reach out. What will you say? Will you ask for feedback? At a minimum, you should send a thank-you email to guests for participating and include a registration link. Express that you’re available to answer any questions —the whole idea is to connect people and fill classes!
Share the Love
Talk with students who participated and who took classes as a result. Get their feedback about the approach and your program in general. Recruit them to assist in future events if they’ve had a great experience. Give them what they need to be evangelists for your program and help them share their stories —and the love— with others!
This speed dating method is just one way to help your student community get to know the many kinds of classes that you offer and consider some they may never have thought of taking!
Can you see attendees falling for your classes this way too?
*Total plug: CourseStorm makes the registration process so incredibly quick and easy that people wouldn’t even need to leave their tables. We invite you to try it for free!