The open-day presentation is a thing apart. However much of an experienced teacher you may be, there is something about the mixed audience on the day of both prospective students and their parents that can make finding the right level for your presentation a tricky matter. And Open Days really, really count - for you, for your subject’s future, and for your department’s standing. So consider the following:
- Make your visuals work for you
In the course of an Open Day your audience will accumulate so many bits of paper that there is very little point in giving them another handout. Instead, use a visual display of your key points. This will enable people to take notes on issues they are particularly interested in, and to leave the rest, with the result that they are far more likely to remember your information than if it was buried in one of the many leaflets of the day.
Of course, the range of information you need to convey over so short a period of time is considerable. But remember not to cram everything onto your a/v slides. Drop the special effects, and use as plain and readable a format as possible to note the key points. Don’t read out loud from the slides. Instead keep the screen information clear and minimal, and use it as a prompt to present further information.
- Let your students do the talking
Many universities these days use current students to help out at open-days. If you have the opportunity to enlist one or two such (enthusiastic and articulate!) helpers for your talk, don’t hesitate. Handing over to them at a certain point in proceedings will immediately enliven the atmosphere. It may come as a blow, but it’s often true that prospective students will relate much more easily to them than to you, and parents will also be interested in hearing what they will consider to be the ‘inside story’.
So, let your student helpers run the show for a specific length of time, and be willing to respond if they turn to you for clarification. This gives a far better impression than you hovering anxiously, interrupting them at every turn. Such a relaxed approach also demonstrates the goodwill between staff and students, and helps build a positive picture of the course overall.
- Don’t run-down the opposition
It’s usually not a good idea to mention the opposition. But if you’re asked a direct question about a competitor, try to make sure you have something positive to say about them. That’s easier, of course, when the question concerns one of your direct competitors, but if the questioner refers to an institution that you think isn’t as highly rated as your own, you can always find ways to comment positively on a particular individual’s research or on a more general aspect of the insitution’s provision.
More persistent questioners may talk about league tables and question you on these. It’s therefore a good idea to have a quick look at the latest league tables across the board, so that you have fingertip knowledge of the latest results and their methodologies. Familiarize yourself, too, with the results of the National Students Survey, as this can provide a more complete picture of life at your university than subject-based results alone.
- Put yourself in their shoes…
Remember that your audience is much more varied than the ones you usually lecture to, and may range from school leavers to high-flying professionals. Ask yourself what each group might wish to hear. Don’t go into too much detail about course content, but instead focus on structural issues (e.g. how many years, number of subjects, amount of choice, contact hours), the practicalities of day-to-day-living (e.g. finance, loans, repayments, and any extra costs), as well as what they can expect from you (e.g. pass rates, employability, progression to further study).
- Repeat… and repeat again
And remember that your audience will probably be overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to assimilate at an Open Day. Be patient, clear, and above all, be prepared to repeat yourself …