Last week’s SUNYCUAD conference featured so many great presentations, people and lessons, but my favorite came from Georgy Cohen‘s “Storytelling as a Framework for Higher Ed Web Marketing” session. Our institutions, Georgy said, are Excalibur — the sword in the stone that helps Arthur become king and a legendary ruler of Camelot. But the story is not about Excalibur, it’s about King Arthur: In other words, it’s about the successes of our students, our faculty and other members of the campus community.
And yet, how often do you see institutions get caught up in tooting their own horn, thumping their own chest and touting their own processes instead of focusing on who really matters? Too often. In most of our narratives, students are (or should be) the heroes, and the key chestnut of most good stories we should write is how the students succeed from their college experience.
As an example, if your college offers a new major, don’t focus on the process of creating the major, the committees involved and administrivia. Do focus on what it can/will do for students — the job opportunities available with this new degree, how the major will help the students grow as people, the niche this program occupies. Are there students ready to declare the major you can interview? (This is often a challenge, but worth asking.) Focus on any true newsworthy angle and the benefits … this is what most readers will find interesting.
Another key part of Georgy’s presentation that supports this is the idea that the most memorable stories involve ordinary people doing extraordinary things. If you work on a college campus, just walk out of your office and you’ll meet people like that every day. That’s one of the reasons I feel so blessed to work in higher education. Everyone from the brilliant student coming up with innovative ideas to the working mother who has overcome so much to earn that degree represents people in our midst who inspire anyone with open eyes, open minds and open hearts. So why not open our storybooks and celebrate their accomplishments?
Their successes tell the story of our institutions’ success. We may provide the tools, but they are the architects, the artists, the builders, the businesspeople, the scientists, the teachers, the entrepreneurs. They are the stories, and there are so many to be told.