Tour de U: How to Rule the Road

Pack those bags…It’s roadshow season. Everyone from the president, provost, and deans, to star faculty, trustees, and celebrity alumni are hitting the road for distant corners of stakeholder country to build excitement, deepen relationships, and rack up valuable face time for U with donors and prospects.

While the goals may be evergreen, the rules of the road have changed of late. Gone are the pre-packaged dog-and-pony shows of yore. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve learned from thousands of miles and smiles accrued.

1. Build up to your biggest challenge.

Don’t start in your most important city. There’s a good reason why Broadway shows start with an out-of-town preview opening. It takes time and practice for U to achieve perfection, and all the on-campus rehearsal in the world isn’t the same as a test-run with real guests.

2. Be fabulous.

Will alumni and donors be banging down the doors for a cocktail, a video, and some speeches in a conference center ballroom? In our experience, the people U most want to reach always have better places to be. They need powerful motivation to get off the couch at the end of a long day and squeeze back into those Jimmy Choos to attend your event. Tap networks in each tour city to offer access to something that money can’t buy—an amazing VIP guest, an exclusive venue, a once-in-a-lifetime happening. Be the event that can’t be missed.

3. Be flexible.

Don’t tie yourself into an event template so rigid that it can’t be adapted to reflect the unique flavor of each region or city on the tour—from cuisine and music to event timing and format, small details can make a big difference in letting guests know U know who they are and what they care about.

4. Listen and learn.

An event plan is a work-in-progress. Write it in pencil, and edit it continually based on lessons learned along the way—those little aha! moments that your team shares in a post-event debrief can help U keep improving and perfecting your roadshow program from city to city. Be willing to abandon something that isn’t working. Incorporate an inspired impromptu moment into the formal plan.

5. Remember why U are there.

From your first planning meeting to every post-event debrief, remember what you’re hoping to achieve with this roadshow. An event on wheels is a heavy lift, and achieving maximum ROI requires that your team keeps focused on a reasonable set of achievable goals—INCLUDING planning in advance the follow-up necessary to make it all worthwhile. Everything about the event should support the strong finish U set at the start of the process.

Happy travels!

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