Leeds Student Engagement Showcase – The Low-Down

student engagement day

After weeks frantically organising, negotiating and selling our souls to online promotion, we finally got there! And the event was a great success, if we do say so ourselves.

Of course it wouldn’t have been half as vibrant or interesting without the wonderful speakers and enthusiastic participation of those that attended. There is always the worry with networking-type events that they will feel forced or even dry, but we really got the sense that people were enjoying themselves (if you can’t tell that from the picture above, full of smiling faces!).

So please take a read of our overall review. Treat this as a plea for why the event should definitely run for future years, and also a chance to learn from our experience if you’ll be doing similar things in the future.

What went well?

Team’s perspective

  • Atmosphere – we felt that the audience were genuinely enjoying themselves, engaging with the event and feeling inspired by the speakers.
  • Pre-event preparation – items like the photos of students with blackboards and the student blogs went down very well and we hope that this will continue to act as a point of reference for what it’s really like to study and be engaged at Leeds.
  • Theme – this leads onto our theme and branding, which was centred around the preliminary use of blackboards. We felt that it was important to maintain this consistency and that, again, it went down well. It also defined us as a group to our audience.
  • Speakers
    • The speakers were incredible in addition to being really well-received. In particular, we felt that in hindsight our method of “short-listing” people worked very well – upon an email of interest we invited interested parties to a meeting in which to discuss their topic – it was much easier to gauge enthusiasm and how well that person might perform in public in person, in addition to helping them by meeting fellow speakers and the central team. Yes it felt a little bitchy, but the competition was fierce, and we are now so grateful that we held out for the most inspiring students!
    • The speakers felt that they were supported through the process. We held extra meetings – either individually or in groups to discuss any problems or ideas people were unsure of. In addition we booked two sessions in the event room in order to practise with our speakers, familiarising ourselves and them with the surroundings and giving them an idea of what the event itself would be like.
    • We also provided any speakers who couldn’t make the training with extra support, not only sending them all the relevant Bettakultcha materials, but also offering a separate catch-up in order to ensure they understood the concept.
    • Finally, on the day of the event a few speakers arrived early in order to gauge the room and maybe have a practise session. On the day we also gave them all an individual thank-you card and £5 Starbucks gift voucher.
    • Finally with our speakers, we managed to get a good mix of genders, topic areas and disciplines, keeping the audience interested very effectively.

Speakers’ perspectives

  • Friendly atmosphere
  • Enjoyed listening to other peoples speeches
  • Good organisation – no misunderstandings and good communications lines. Good preparation. Professional
  • Good room set-up
  • Facebook photos effective
  • Variety of activities at the event was interesting (people could interact even if they weren’t speaking)

 

What we’d recommend for next year

  • LfL – upon meeting with the Leeds for Life team we felt that we had very similar goals in showcasing and encouraging student engagement and would love the opportunity to work with them next year.
  • Union – we contacted the union on several occasions hoping to initiate some involvement from them and unfortunately never had any response. Next year we would suggest trying this again, particularly using Hannah Goddard
  • (Goddard@leeds.ac.uk) and Sanna Laakso (S.K.Laakso@leeds.ac.uk) as ambassadors, as they came to

the event in 2014

graph blog engage.

  • Timings – there was some debate over the timing of the event and whether the workshop should have been between the two sets of speakers. We had the workshops after the speaker to ensure all the speakers received equal amounts of attention and no-one (or very few) people left before the speakers had finished. However, it may be worth thinking further about this versus whether to have a workshop between the two sets of speakers in order to “break things up”.
  • Programme
    • This year we were reluctant to publish the programme as it meant committing to certain time frames and in addition, two speakers dropped out in final stages of planning. A lot of academics requested a programme to be published however, in order to establish whether it was ok to drop in or out and because this is normal protocol for usual university procedures.
    • There were some grammar and spelling mistakes in the final draft. This should be thoroughly checked next year.
  • “Show off wall” – although it was a good concept, this didn’t prove as popular as some of the other interactive activities around the room. This may have been due to the set up – there wasn’t as much colour as some of the other displays. Next year we would recommend collecting “show offs” from audience members before the event (perhaps via Twitter) and collating them onto the wall as a display, rather than an activity, on the day.
  • Guidance with activities – we presumed people would pick up on all the pieces of paper we left about and our explanations. In retrospect it would have been useful to give a bit more guidance – perhaps via more structure – to the audience as to what was what. In future we would recommend coming up with some ideas for this.
  • Length – In retrospect, giving a 3 hour time slot for this event was very ambitious and in reality, our networking began half an hour earlier. It might be worth considering re-wording the advertisements as “from 3pm” or something similar.
  • Presentations – although they went well, in the photos it would have been nice to have the logo present. By editing the presentations to all have a logo in one of the corners, this would allow both of these to happen without distracting from the presenter. This should be checked with the speakers.
  • Budget – the budget was plenty for this event and we recommend using tea and coffee, hot water, wine etc from Tess. In addition, in the bid for funding we would recommend including the “helpers” as part of the budget as they were very useful!
  • Advertising was perhaps not very useful when towards students – we would recommend focussing on spreading the word among staff.
  • Engagement in the academic sphere seems to have more of a definition aligned with academic activities, such as extra modules or work around a discipline. We would recommend either suggesting a student definition at the beginning of the event to avoid confusion, but also maybe focussing more on academic activities from speakers rather than co-curricular activities.
  • Location – unfortunately the Centenary Gallery won’t be available next year. We would recommend looking for a similar capacity room in the university as it wasn’t full this year and can’t expect to grow ridiculously! We are currently investigating the use of a room within the School of Music and hopefully this will be secured before the next academic year.

Thanks for reading! Hope there are a few pointers here for next year.

Cait, Nicola and Georgiana.