5 Threw a Party But Nobody Came!

Author: Celia Popovic


Connie was asked by a department chair to organize a workshop on Universal Design for Learning. She was excited to be asked, as this was a subject she held dear to her heart. She gave considerable time to organizing the event, planning the session, preparing her materials. The department chair said he would invite his colleagues to attend, and told Connie to expect around 20 participants. When the day came Connie waited with increasing anxiety as not a single person turned up. What on earth had gone wrong?


It is not uncommon for educational developers to be asked to arrange a workshop. If this happens it is vitally important to establish the need for the workshop, both in terms of the content and whether this is the best way to convey the content. We will look at the issue of focus in the section Getting Through the Door.

Assuming that a workshop is indeed appropriate in a given situation, how can we ensure that all those who would find it useful will know about it and attend?

Marketing and communication are key. This needs to be considered both as an ongoing activity for the centre as a whole and for the specific workshop.

Identify the key forms of communication at your institution.

Use numerous channels for the same message. Some people will hear about the event multiple times, but that is not a problem. It is more important to reach the maximum range of the target audience than worry about sending multiple messages to some. It is well worth the time and effort to nurture department level contacts. A message sent or endorsed by a department head or member may have more impact than one sent solely by the centre. If the workshop was requested by a faculty member, share with them the responsibility of promoting it. A few days before, ask how many people have signed up, or if you are managing this let them know the numbers. Ensure that the champion in the department is clear about why people should attend and has communicated this their colleagues. Encourage them to send out one final reminder. The (subtle) hint this gives is that your time is valuable too (you have people breathing down your neck to show impact / value add etc), and they have to have skin in the game.

Many institutions have an in-house newsletter or journal. This can be a valuable source of marketing. However, in some cases the journal becomes too familiar, with some significant sections of the community ignoring it altogether. Cultivate a strong relationship with the journal editor. Suggest publishing a regular issue on teaching and learning, or have a dedicated column or section for events in the centre.

Centre published newsletter. This can have the same advantages and challenges of an institutional journal. Some centres find it productive to send out a monthly or termly newsletter direct to email addresses of those who teach at the institution. This has the advantage of novelty - the recipient sees it in their inbox, without searching for it. Those who are not interested can simply delete it.

Make it easy for people to find out about events. Advertise them clearly on the centre's website. Collaborate with other providers of events, such as Human Resources or IT departments, to promote each other's events.

Use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to promote your events. Encourage participants to post about forthcoming and past events. Build a sense of anticipation and value around the events. While one off posts can have an effect, it is far more efficient to create a social media schedule. Think of the centre's activities around the year, then plan social media postings accordingly. Ensure there is a regular feed of posts that draw attention to the events and resources on offer.

Consider publishing a regular podcast or blog. At York University we have been posting a weekly blog for  several years now. Sometimes the blog is written by members of the centre, more often by others. Teaching Commons, York University Blog

A regular podcast promotes interest and encourages discussion around key topic. Teaching Commons, York University, Podcast.

Linking podcasts or blogs to current university policies or agendas can help increase engagement with these initiatives.

Know Your Audience

Who is the intended target audience, and why are the outcomes / topic important to them?

This advice from Erik Brogt:

Knowing who your audience is can help you tailor your content and make it more contextually relevant, and give you an idea about the level of the content you can provide, so that it is not too easy, and not way over their heads. Practicing what we preach, we need to stick within the Zone of Professional Development (with a nod to Vygotsky…) It is also important to know what the audience is going to be (or supposed to be) doing with the content of the workshop, and on what time frame. Typically, a ‘just-in-time-development’ approach works quite well in generating attendance, as people can clearly see the immediate relevance. It can also help determine whether the workshop is right for the time. For example, holding a workshop on different assessment formats just before exams is moderately pointless, as all assessment formats will already have been set. Aligning topics with the cycle of the academic year will lead to higher attendance in general.


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2 comments on “5 Threw a Party But Nobody Came!

  1. I've also noticed this same issue with the shift to online offerings too. One might think that an online workshop is "easier" to attend, though that is clearly not always the case. Just interesting to see these above points being relevant to both face-to-face and online.
    Has anyone else experienced something similar?

    1. I wonder with online events if there is an element of perceived anonymity. Not that you are anonymous but you might perceive it that way. I noticed that we often have people signed up for an event online but when the date arrives they find they are too busy. It is presumably easier to attend online than in person, but that ease of access somehow excuses someone from not showing (in their perception) - is this perhaps linked to valuing something less than something that required more effort? Or are we just overwhelmed now with online events?

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