Engaging Prospective Students Virtually

Here in Admissions at the Fuqua School of Business, we are part of an elite group of seven schools, known as “The S7”. This group also includes Berkeley Haas, Cornell Johnson, Michigan Ross, NYU Stern, UVA Darden, and Yale School of Management. We collaborate to do around 40 events together each year, in order to draw in more prospective students collectively than we could on our own. In true Team Fuqua spirit, we work together to talk through ideas, trade industry information, and host events together. During a normal recruitment season, we would send our admission officers to MBA fairs around the world, as well as host some signature events of our own. This year, however, found us thinking outside of the box to quickly pull together a way where we could reach our intended audiences, while also not being lost in the noise of the rapidly evolving virtual event field.

Back in April, my supervisor, Kathryn Davies, discovered the perfect platform, Vfairs. They are well equipped to run fairs of any kind: job fairs, alumni networking fairs, housing fairs, etc. We designed our virtual fair to replicate the face-to-face event. Each of the S7 schools have their own booth, customized with images of the school, information packets on various business programs and class stats, as well as links to our social media sites and student blogs. Additionally, we created an auditorium page that prospective students could visit at any time during the fair hours to watch a pre-recorded application tips panel, hosted by a member of each school. The last component of our fair was the chat feature. This allowed prospective students to go to the school’s chat room of their choice to ask general questions in the main chat area, or to schedule a ten-minute one-on-one video or voice call with an admissions representative. Check out our S7 event page here.

What were the event goals? How did going virtual impact these goals?

Our goals putting on recruitment fairs of any kind are always to attract new applicants who might not have considered us to apply to Fuqua, and to encourage those who think they would be a good fit to submit their applications sooner in the cycle rather than later (there are four rounds of admission each school year). In this new virtual world, our main goal remains to engage with as many new prospective students as possible in a way that fosters pleasant and informative interactions between students and Admissions.

As many event planners are learning, going virtual has actually allowed us to reach a larger audience as compared to face-to-face events since it is so easy for attendees to participate. So far, we have done three events on Vfairs with nine more left on our contract. At the same time, the number of attendees has dropped over time due to virtual fair fatigue, so we are now thinking more creatively. By targeting specific regions or audiences, we hope to make each fair more specialized and therefore more appealing to applicants.

Why did you choose this format/model over others?

After looking at many other virtual platforms, we chose Vfairs because of its unique features and realistic simulation of a live in-person event. Because of quarantining, we all miss and crave social interactions, and it is so easy to feel impersonal in a virtual setting. The Vfairs platform allows the user to go to a different “room” for each activity they want to engage in, and it has fun touches like avatars milling about in the lobby and outdoor scenery from various cities as background images. As a reflection of Duke’s commitment to inclusivity, we worked with Vfairs to ensure that the avatars were representative of the students, staff, and faculty of Fuqua.

What advice do you have for colleagues planning a similar event?

Don’t be afraid to be silly and let your audience get to know you on a personal level. Whenever we need a fun icebreaker, we often try to incorporate our trademark “25 Random Things About Yourself” application essay prompt. Our Admissions Officers share something about themselves and then ask the prospective students to do the same. It allows for some fun stories, bonding, and smiles all around!


A huge shout-out to my supervisor, Kathryn Davies (Associate Director, Fuqua Admissions), who found the Vfairs platform and became S7’s fearless leader this year, plunging head-first into the virtual fair world with gusto and aplomb!


Virtually yours,

Sarah Hay

Off Campus Events Coordinator

Admissions, Fuqua School of Business

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Send-Off Parties Go Virtual

Every summer, the Duke Alumni Association hosts a series of ‘Send-off Parties’ to celebrate incoming students and welcome them into the Forever Duke family. These events are a unique opportunity for firstyear studentto connect with a community of Duke peers in their region, before embarking on their Duke journey in late August.  Spotting a familiar face on the plane ride to Durham or waving across the quad can be a comfort to these students and help them feel much more at home, especially in what can be an unfamiliar and strange place. 

Historically, these send-off parties take place in-person, but due to COVID-19, we shifted to a virtual format this year. At the in-person events, interpersonal conversations and connections between students develop rather naturally, so it was up to our team to figure out a way to facilitate those interactions in a virtual format. The team’s commitment to our goals led us to explore all that might be possible with Zoom.  

What elements did you incorporate in your virtual event to engage attendees? 

We chose to use the regular Zoom meeting format instead of the webinar model so that we could use the interactive features like participant video display and breakout rooms. We fostered audience participation right off the bat by opening the event with self-introductions by the studentsThe program continued with live presentations from staff, polls with Duke trivia, a pre-recorded video from notable alumnifaculty and staff, and breakout rooms. During the separate breakouts for parents and for students, participants were encouraged to turn on their videos and unmute themselves to ask questions 

Duke Triangle Party; Photo credit: Nicole Silvanic, Assistant Director, Regional Engagement (and incredibly talented photo editor!)

What resources, skills, and partners did you use in creating this virtual event?  

With 49 events all around the country and the world, in nine time zones, over the course of three weeks, just scheduling and staffing the events was an amazing feat! Each event had a master of ceremonies, a technical host and often a backup technical host. Seven regional alumni directors served as MCs, and alumni volunteers and Student Affairs staff acted as moderators in the breakout sessions. Event registration and communications with over 2600 students, parents and staff were managed through Cvent. 

A detailed Zoom setup guide (click here to download ensured that each person setting up the meetings enabled all the necessary Zoom features, Since the program elements for all events followed the same sequence, I created a run of show template, which the regional directors customized for each of their own events (download here). Because we planned to use technical features unfamiliar to the average Zoom user, I also drafted an event specific Zoom training manual. This event required Duke Alumni Affairs staff to really up their Zoom gameand in the days and even hours leading up to the events, we had group practice sessions and one on one tutorials during “office hours.”  

By the time we were finished, all the support staff were experienced at handling waiting rooms, spotlighting, polls, video playback and breakout rooms. Some of our team also got to flex their creative muscles, producing pre-recorded video content and screen shot versions of the traditional class photo. 

How did you measure the success of your virtual event?     

Given the unique nature of 2020’s send-off parties, the success of these events could not simply be measured by the number of people who registered or attended. Virtual send-off parties were considered successful if by the end of the event, students were excited to get to campus, to start their journey, and to be part of the Duke family. 

What advice do you have for colleagues planning a similar event?    

Use music! It keeps people engaged and is a great way to avoid some of the awkward silences that often plague virtual events. After the first few events, I figured out how to share my computer sound without sharing the actual screen, so that I could open and play a YouTube video for background music. 

It may seem silly, but you’ll be amazed at the difference an inexpensive ring light can make. I supported events at all hours of the day, and a ring light was life changing, ensuring that I had consistent, flattering light for the Zoom video. 

Also, don’t be afraid to play around with Zoom! I used my personal email to create a free account and would schedule meetings with me, myself and I using multiple devices.  This way, I could practice different Zoom features and tools that I wasn’t yet comfortable using 

The entire Regional Engagement team at Duke Alumni Affairs deserves a HUGE shout out for their tireless work on this projectSpecial thanks to Lisa Weistart ‘92, Senior Director of Regional Engagement and Cherie Michaud, Assistant Director of Regional Engagement for going above and beyond 

Virtually yours, 

Madeline Drewry ‘17 

Coordinator, Reunions & Special Events                                                         

Duke Alumni Affairs    


Duke Regional Engagement team, May 2019 (L-R): Lisa Weistart ‘92; Nicole Silvanic; Ann-Louise Aguiar; David Lindquist ‘86, ‘91; Madeline Drewry ‘17, Betty Irvin ‘81; Lottie Gan, Chris O’Neill ‘95; Mark Wienants; Victoria Bright ‘10
Not pictured – Erica Gavin ‘96; Louise Ward Meyer ‘87; Cherie Michaud

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Making the Most of Zoom and the Sanford Virtual Event Brand

This spring, when we shifted to working and learning remotely, my boss immediately got our Sanford team powered up for the virtual event scene. The Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University is a community of excellence working to improve lives and communities by researching the most pressing public policy issues and preparing students for lives of leadership, civic engagement and public service.  Our programming serves to both point people to our faculty expertise in these challenging times and to keep our community of students, prospective students, and alumni engaged, wherever they may be. With more than 8000 alumni and 1000 students worldwide, virtual programs give us the potential to reach a much larger audience. 

Why did you choose this format/model over others? 

To be honest, it is our content, rather than the format, which makes our programs compelling.  This spring and summerZoom meetings served our virtual program needs and was readily accessibleHowever, this fall, I will begin using a Zoom webinar license, which will be a game changer for managing our virtual programming.  I’m looking forward to fewer audio and video distractions in webinars, but the communication tools in the webinar platform will really make my work publicizing programs and registering attendees much more efficient.  

What resources, skills, and partners did you use in creating this virtual event?  

It was clear early on that we needed to establish some organizational standardsTo that end, we created the Sanford best practices guide to Zoom meetings. It includes step by step instructions and references for the entire process, from concept through execution.  By creating and sharing this guide, we’ve given our Sanford colleagues the tools to brand and deliver virtual programs that consistently represent Sanford excellence. You are welcome to view and download the most current version here.  

Some highlights of the guide are a quick reference planning guide for organizers, and the printable checklist for presentersAnother resource we created was a 25 Live “Sanford virtual location” which must be used to schedule any Sanford sponsored events. By using this virtual location, we can ensure our programs have access to the webinar license, tech and event support, and that Sanford events do not compete with each other.  

What elements did you incorporate in your virtual event to engage attendees? 

Before, during and after events, we use a variety of tools to engage attendees.  For instance, I’ve added a Sanford newsletter signup option to the event registration questions.  In a recent program, I created a branded PowerPoint which looped the last five minutes before the program began. It included the speakers’ bios, and cross promoted a recent podcast by one of the speakers. We also use social media to strategically engage attendees. In preparation for events, the faculty host and communications staff draft tweets with related content to share throughout the event, along with live reactions and quotes from speakers. To collect attendee feedback and interest in future programs, we are starting to use the Zoom feature which hyperlinks to a Qualtrics post-event survey. 

How do you measure the success of your virtual events? 

Dean Kelley monitors registration and actual participation counts almost as closely as I do!  Of course, one measure, or should I say goal, of a successful virtual event is the absence of any technical issues.   

What have you learned from planning these virtual events? 

I have come to accept that no matter how much we prepare and practice, something can always go wrong. Once, our moderator actually got locked out of the Zoom meeting, and another faculty member had to improvise. Another time, despite a successful sound check during rehearsal, the featured speaker’s mic failed. 

What is your next virtual event challenge? 

This fall, in honor of our founder Terry Sanford, we will launch virtual series called “Stand for…”  We will be doing multiple events under this new umbrella to include: Stand for Justice, Stand for Democracy and Stand for Community. These will be more challenging because the topics are more complex, and each will involve several new partners and multiple speakers. 

I am truly grateful for my boss, Kirsten Khire, who sets the bar high and brings a wealth of previous experience and best practicesI learn from her every day. Emily Totherow created our first draft of the Zoom meeting guide and has been a great partner as we shifted events online. Huge shout out to my many colleagues at Sanford who aligned their events under the Sanford Virtual Event brand, who work collaboratively to coordinate scheduling, and who are always ready to help behind the scenes.  I want to give a special shout out to Tiffany Goetzinger who was such a pleasure to work with on the DCID-Sanford Covid-19 and development series.  

Throughout the pandemic and especially this summer, I must also thank my family for leaving me alone during the events so I could put 100% focus on the all-consuming work of hosting a public virtual event. 

Virtually yours, 

Mary Lindsley 

Communications and Events Manager 

Sanford School of Public Policy 

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Surgery 2020 KURe Multidisciplinary Benign Urology Research Day

The KURe Multidisciplinary Benign Urology Research Day had traditionally been a live event on Duke’s campus. This year, it was scheduled for April 24, 2020, and with scientific meetings either canceling or postponing around the country, the dedicated planning team chose to virtualize their event. With only one month to pivot, they successfully transformed this day long meeting into a virtual educational experience on Zoom.

As always, keynote presentations and panel discussions featuring nationally recognized researchers were offered. Other popular and beneficial aspects of the live conference are the networking and discussions with experts during conference breaks and the traditional Lunch with Experts.  To maintain this tradition at the virtual conference, the trainees were surveyed about the experts they would like to meet, and they were then pre-assigned to virtual breakout rooms with selected experts during the conference lunch break.

While still allowing Duke and national trainees the opportunity to highlight their research, the poster sessions also underwent a major transformation.  They were redesigned into Flash Talks, composed of a 2-minute pre-recorded PowerPoint presentation followed by a 1-minute live virtual Q&A. The Flash Talks were grouped together into morning and afternoon Zoom sessions with back-to-back talks presented to all attendees. The format proved to be an efficient mechanism to present, while the Q & A time afterwards facilitated excellent interaction between the presenters and audience.  Outstanding Flash Talks were recognized in the areas of basic science, clinical studies and translational medicine.  Judges evaluated the presentations using standardized score sheets, and winners were announced at the end of the day.

What were the event goals? How did going virtual impact these goals?

By focusing on the goals of networking and education as the event was redesigned, we were able to deliver effective education and provide unique opportunities for interaction. The virtual format resulted in more than double the usual number of abstracts submitted by post docs, fellows, residents, and medical students from 23 academic institutions.  Quarantine and travel restrictions, along with the virtual format, also resulted in greater conference attendance.  The day-long meeting attracted more than 100 participants from a variety of scientific subspecialties across the country.

What resources, skills and partners were used in creating this virtual event?

Being one of the first virtual conferences, this team had to learn a lot in a short amount of time and they did a fantastic job!  We had no technical issues because of their planning, preparations and practice. Of course, when presenting a virtual conference there are things that can happen that you cannot control.   I believe having a team and dividing responsibilities is important.  Behind the scenes, we needed support staff to manage the playback of the recordings, ensure efficient transitions from one presenter to the next, and move attendees into breakouts. Even when speakers are familiar with the format, sending them detailed instructions prior to the event and having backup moderators proved to be helpful.  And practice, practice, PRACTICE!

What is our next virtual event challenge?

We are now working on a Visiting Professor conference, as well as Regional and National CME conferences.

Special thanks to Program Director, Dr. Cindy Amundsen and her organizing team; Friederike Jayes, PhD, Rebecca Kameny, PhD and IT analyst Paul Gibilisco, for all their work to make this event a success.


Virtually yours,

Robin Phillips

CME Program Coordinator

Duke Section of Surgical Disciplines

Office of Continuing Medical Education


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