Ambassadors/Tour Guides

FCNY18 & The Campus Visit: Upright Citizens Brigade

Render followers know we're fans of the Fast Company Innovation Festival. This past October, Render's Brittney Joyce and Dani Napier spent a week in NYC traversing the city to pick up lessons from the world's most innovative brands.

A little humor can go a long way in diffusing a difficult situation. Improv is an untapped training tool to help tour guides learn to think fast on their feet and tackle inappropriate questions with a bit of lightheartedness.

When we saw that the Upright Citizens Brigade was hosting an improv class as part of FCNY18, we took a deep breath and signed up. Oof. This is very far outside of our comfort zone. Here’s what we did/learned:

  1. We did an improv exercise that started with “No, but…” in which your partner gives you a scenario (ours was we were hosting a Super Bowl party in which we debated on how to host the party and whether we should host it at all). This played out like:

    • “We could have everyone bring their own dish like a potluck!”

    • “No because we could end up with 20 bags of chips and nothing else, but we could order pizza instead.”

    • “No because not everyone likes pizza, but we could order tacos…”

  2. The next level of this exercise was “Yes, but…” Same scenario:

    • “We could have everyone bring their own dish like a potluck!”

    • “Yes, but we’d have to create and manage a sign-up list.”

    • “Yes, but we’d have to create categories for food and only put a few slots for each item.”

  3. Next level was “Yes, and…” Same scenario:

    • “We could have everyone bring their own dish like a potluck!”

    • “Yes, and we’ll create a sign-up list with slots for each dish or item!”

    • “Yes, and we’ll also order a pizza or other big dish just as a backup!”

See how things tend to flow much easier in the “Yes, and"…” scenario? When you use “but…,” it backs you and the other person into a defensive tons and stance. It invites someone to argue with you.

When parents ask a difficult question of a tour guide, we’d invite them to try “Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…” or “Yes, but…” For example, let’s take the most frequently asked question we hear:

“Is campus safe?”

“No, but…”: “Our campus is patrolled by three security forces: local police, blah blah, script, script…”

  • This is the “I don’t really know how to answer this question, BUT I do know stats and script! This response doesn’t connect nor does it answer the question. It invites argument which is why we usually hear this response followed with “Ok, but do YOU feel safe?”

“Yes, but…”: “Our campus is patrolled by three security forces blah blah blah, but I’ve never had to use any of those services..”

  • Again, translating this to: “I think campus is safe based on my experience, but I know my experience isn’t every student’s experience.”

“Yes, and…”: “I know that’s a big concern for parents these days. From my perspective, here’s what safety is like on campus, and I can introduce you to other guides so you can get different perspectives…”

  • Translation: “I know you’re concerned, I can only offer my point of view, and you’ll want to get multiple perspectives.”

TL;DR: Improv isn’t about teaching tour guides to be comedians; it can be a really useful tool in tackling difficult questions.

More from Fast Company & UCB: Leadership Lessons from Improv & Customer Service & Improv

More on “Yes, and…”: Second City’s Guide to Creativity and Collaboration

Client Brag: The University of Pennsylvania

Photo credit: Michael Warren, Daily Pennsylvanian

Photo credit: Michael Warren, Daily Pennsylvanian

Our client, the University of Pennsylvania, has been hard at work the past few years making many changes to their campus visit experience.

We've long been champions of people (not programs) and stories (not stats). Proud that Penn is adopting the same philosophy!

Read the article from The Daily Pennsylvanian detailing all the changes their admissions offices and the Kite and Key Ambassadors have implemented!

Kudos, Penn!

Photo credit: Michael Warren, Daily Pennsylvanian

Photo credit: Michael Warren, Daily Pennsylvanian

Photo credit: Michael Warren, Daily Pennsylvanian

Photo credit: Michael Warren, Daily Pennsylvanian

FCNY18 & The Campus Visit: DryBar

Alli Webb and Brittney Joyce: FCNY16

Alli Webb and Brittney Joyce: FCNY16

Render followers know we're fans of the Fast Company Innovation Festival. This past October, Render's Brittney Joyce and Dani Napier spent a week in NYC traversing the city to pick up lessons from the world's most innovative brands.

We often use DryBar as an example of the evolution of The Experience Economy: getting people to pay for something they didn’t know they needed AND being able to charge a premium price for that product/service.

What has Co-Founder Alli Webb learned among the way? Here are a couple lessons we thought were useful for you & the campus visit:

Brittney Joyce: Mid-blowout with hair that was 90% dry shampoo.

Brittney Joyce: Mid-blowout with hair that was 90% dry shampoo.

  1. There are a lot of copycat studios that have cropped up over the years offering blowouts. Alli said she used to be obsessed about what those studios were doing and how much they emulated the experience staged at DryBar. After a while, she stopped caring. She realized that although they offer a similar service, they’ll never be able to fully understand the thought and intentionality within the DryBar experience (ie: how they hang mirrors on the walls directly behind chairs for a customer’s turnaround reveal).

  2. The people of DryBar are everything to their experience, and hiring the right person is critical. How does Alli ensure the people they hire are the right people? She does a “cultural interview” where managers just hang out with candidates for a while and talk. If the candidate seems friendly and cool, then they get to blowout someone’s hair.

What does this mean for the visit?

  1. Stop being obsessed with the school down the road or your major competitor. We often share best practices with our clients, but no one approach to the campus visit is right for all institutions. You have to be true to your culture and design a visit that authentically reveals your campus DNA.

  2. Usually campus visit coordinators or staff members hire students, and we often find that staff members hire students who share their own personality traits (aka, we hire people just like us). Involve as many people in the hiring process to ensure you’re getting the right person for the job, and think about ways to include more rounds in a selection process other than an interview.

TL;DR: Just be you and think psychographics (not demographics) when hiring or selecting tour guides.

DryBar Co-Founder Alli Webb dishing all things authenticity.

DryBar Co-Founder Alli Webb dishing all things authenticity.


Ambassador Conversation Training

We love our ambassadors, but let's admit it: sometimes they struggle making basic conversation with families. After "Where are you from?" and "What are you interested in studying?", they don't know what else to say.

At the annual conference for the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association this summer, our colleague Ashley McDermott (Louisiana State University) showed us "Chat Pack" which she uses when training ambassadors to be better conversationalists.

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In the spirit of ambassador conversation training, here are some additional games, cards, and resources other Render clients are using. (No sponsored content here; just happy to share.)

Table Topics

Big Talk

Rory's Story Cubes

Conversation Cubes

Do you have something that works well for you? Hit us up on social media or via email to share!

Latest Attention Getters: Balloons?

While visiting Saint Joseph's University (PA), we were touring the dining hall when...bump...we hit a balloon. Tied to the end was the note below from one of their sororities advertising an upcoming philanthropy event.

Need to advertise when ambassador applications open? Or need volunteers for an upcoming open house?

Have you ever considered...balloons?

Look at them all! How can college students avoid grabbing a balloon and looking at the note on the bottom? Brilliant!

Look at them all! How can college students avoid grabbing a balloon and looking at the note on the bottom? Brilliant!

The note was attached to the bottom of the string.

The note was attached to the bottom of the string.

Save the (Training/Event) Date

Every great campus visit person understands that, even though you're in the thick of day-to-day logistics and operations, you always have to work six months in advance. Visitors want your calendars open online, which means scheduling tour guides, asking faculty and staff for help, and blocking off major event and university dates months in advance.

One of the biggest conundrums facing campus visit folks is the all-important task of informing tour guides about upcoming major event dates and training retreats. How many times have you heard "Well, I can't do that date because I already have this thing...?" To get tour guides when you need them, you must be first to get on their calendar.

Campus Visit Rock Star and our colleague at Lander University, Amanda Platt (Associate Director of Admission), took a tip from modern life and current culture. When our friends and family need us at important life events, do they give us a couple weeks notice? Of course not. We get... save. the. dates!

Amanda creates a series of magnets to help ensure Lander Ambassadors are where they need to be (and most importantly, when Amanda needs them most). Magnets are inexpensive, fun, stand out among the paper/flyers/postcards college students typically receive from organizations, and can be designed quickly and easily.

What are you doing to get on calendars 6 months out?

Hello Lander Ambassadors! 

Hello Lander Ambassadors! 

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The Hills are Alive... with Tour Guide Recruitment

The start of the academic year ushers in a new freshmen class, the kick off of travel season, and for many of you, your tour guide recruitment and selection process.

We've always preached - it's not what you do or say, but how you make people feel. We love this video shared with us by Tracey O'Kelley with the Clemson University Visitors Center. One of their tour guides, Peyton, shot, edited and produced this short video to help with tour guide selection (way to go, Peyton). It gives us all the feels.

Do you have a unique way you're reaching out to campus to recruit and select tour guides? Share your flyers, videos and strategies on Facebook with us. Happy recruiting!

"Hi, My Name Is..."

We've said it before: tour guides are the most important people in this process. They have a lot of responsbility in guiding our guests, answering their questions, and being genuine, authentic representatives of their schools.

We love this video from our client, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, because it shows a well-trained ambassador doing one thing really, really well - flipping the question of "Why did I choose UAB?" to "What keeps me coming back to UAB?"

Keep telling stories, Jared! Special shoutout to Tyler Peterson, Executive Director of Admissions and Financial Assistance at UAB, for sharing with us.

Got a cool photo, video or story of good things happening on your campus? Let us brag on you by sending it our way!

Silence isn't always awkward

Ever have that professor in college that lectured you for 50 intense minutes? Us too. It's exhausting, right? Campus tours can feel the same way. Some guides can spend a full tour talking at families, hardly pausing to breathe (in their defense, they're often trained to share way too much information in a short amount of time).

As part of our Steps to Being Memorable tour guide/ambassador workshop, we talk about the power of silence. There's so much families are taking in for the first time. They need time to process it all, absorb the newness of campus, listen to the sounds and chatter around them and just soak it in.

Today, Adweek featured a commercial from Norway that tells the story of how powerful quiet can be.

Pause from your busy day, watch and enjoy the quiet. And train your tour guides to do the same.

Client Case Study: Illinois College & Slack

If there's one area where Guest Experience Coordinator Tracy Garde at Illinois College (Jacksonville, IL) allows the tour guides to slack, it's their usage of Slack! Tracy implemented Slack with their tour guides this year and has had a lot of success in improving communication with the whole group.

Tracy mainly uses Slack for general communication, events announcements, and Illinois College trivia (which seems to be the favorite channel among the True Blue Ambassadors)! She tends to use the personal messaging feature quite a bit because, as she told us, "...it seems to grab the ambassadors attention more easily. During events, everyone knows to keep an eye on their phones (totally opposite of what I used to ask them to do!) for last minute changes and THAT has worked amazingly well."

Slack wasn't always the communication mode of choice for the Ambassadors. They used GroupMe and Facebook for a while and hit quite a few roadblocks. Everyone's phone would be blowing up all day since there's only one "channel" with all announcements and commentary on both platforms. With Slack, Tracy says "We have the Trivia convo feed and, if someone doesn't want to play for instance, because they don't want the interruption while studying, they can exit out of that feed. Slack is easier to manage members than GM was, and we've not had any issues with it going off line as we sometimes did with GM."

Brilliant! Check out some screenshots below of how Tracy's True Blue Ambassdors are using Slack. And get in touch with Tracy if you have questions about how she implemented and got student buy-in to use something new and different to communicate.

Way to go, IC!