Top Trends Shaping Higher Education Event Planning (3) Events On Demand

15 May, 2019

This is the final installment in a three-part series on trends in event management on college campuses. Previously we shared some thoughts on rapidly growing event volumes and the increasing complexity of events. Here we’ll address the rise of “on-demand culture” and what it means to event planners and facility schedulers.

Technology and the On-Demand Culture

There’s no doubt that advances in technology are having a profound impact on all aspects of our lives. From how we get things done to how we interact with each other, the world looks much different today than it did just a few years ago. And as technology evolves, expectations around what we can do, when we can do it, and how we can do it are changing as well.

Technology has enabled us to ask any question and get an instant answer, have a car show up at the curb with a few clicks on a smartphone, and get food delivered to our door. Things that were science fiction a decade ago we now take for granted. Very quickly we’ve gotten used to getting what we want when we want it – which is usually right now. This attitude is so ingrained in us that it has spawned a new term: the “on-demand culture.”

We’re all guilty (if that’s the right word) of expecting the world to respond rapidly to our wants and needs. Wait for more than two or three minutes to get your fast food order or your espresso at the local coffee shop and you start to feel your blood pressure rising. This addiction to immediacy is no different in event planning. On many campuses, students now have an event scheduling app on their phone, or at a minimum can access a mobile-friendly website to make their space request. If they aren’t given that kind of capability, they’re disappointed if not downright irritated.

Addressing this new dynamic has been difficult for many event scheduling departments that we have spoken with. “The new culture is that you don’t have to plan ahead for anything. People are doing things much more last minute, and it puts a real strain on our resources,” said one director of conferences and events. “Students would love to never have to talk to anyone about their event,” said another.

Fortunately, there are three simple steps you can take to align student expectations and your scheduling capabilities:

1. Review your policies and procedures.

When was the last time you looked at your scheduling policies with a critical eye? Is it really necessary to have 24 weeks of lead time to request the ballroom? Often policies were written in a time when paper forms were the norm and the process of receiving, reviewing, and responding to them took anywhere from many days to weeks. (Every now and then we like to peer inside a dusty old “scheduling book” we have that was used in a student union more than 20 years ago – just to remind ourselves how far our field has come!) Today's advanced reservation systems have built-in approval mechanisms that enable everyone who needs to review a request to access it instantaneously online.

2. Educate your requestors and build awareness around what is needed from them.

Generally speaking, the more people know about what goes on behind the scenes to prepare for an event, the more understanding and responsive they are. Continual outreach and educational efforts are especially important with student organizations, as graduating seniors tend to take their knowledge of the scheduling process with them. Offering a training session to student organizations can go a long way in setting expectations about timeframes and logistics for events.

Event planning checklists can be extremely helpful here as well. They enable you to quickly communicate everything that is needed to host an amazing event.

3. Streamline the way you communicate with requestors.

The ability to communicate efficiently and effectively with requestors is critical to meeting and event scheduling success in today’s on-demand culture. This starts with your online request form. The general rule of thumb with event requests is to ask only for the information you absolutely must have to start the process. Nobody likes to open a form and be confronted by a seemingly endless list of questions. Plus, in many cases the person submitting the request is simply looking to secure a room initially, and won’t be able to provide details until a later time. And, the reality is that the more complicated your form is, the more likely the requestor will fill it out incorrectly.

In following up with requestors, use any (and if necessary, every) method of communication at your disposal – phone calls, email, texting, a scheduling system-based app, carrier pigeon (Your flock is in good shape, right?)… whatever it takes. When determining how you’ll interact with a particular requestor, consider which method is most likely to get a response and develop your communication strategy around that. Typically with students, texting will be best, and with university staff, email is preferred.

Roll with the (Event Scheduling) Changes

Adapting to this “new world order” in scheduling requires an openness to new tools and new ways of thinking. The on-demand culture isn’t going anywhere, and as new tech and tools become available, it will only become more ubiquitous. By following the strategies outlined above, not only will you be able to respond to these changes, your entire scheduling operation will become more streamlined, which means happier staff, students, and customers.

Bryan Peck

Bryan Peck is the Co-Founder and VP of Sales & Marketing of Mazévo. Check out his articles about event management and scheduling software.