We recently hosted a workshop at the University of Dayton (UD): Retirement Reinvented. Now two weeks later, as I look back on all that happened before, during, and after that workshop, I’m amazed at how a single event boosted community engagement and catapulted our brand.
The University of Dayton proved to be the perfect partner and venue for this first endeavor, as it’s my beloved alma mater and they’ve long mastered of the fine art of nurturing a highly-engaged community. Go Flyers!
The U-Shaped Curve of Alumni Engagement
As you might expect, alumni communities tend to have highest engagement with recent graduates. Then, as alumni move into their thirties and forties, personal and professional demands surge and participation tends to dip.
Interesting, but for some alumni communities (including UD), engagement rates increase later as these folks move into their fifties and sixties. Since that’s our tribe for Retirepreneur, we suspected there would be strong interest among the age 50+ UD alumni crowd to come back to the place where they started their careers and connect with like-minded, fellow alumni to figure out what’s next and get started on mapping out their plan.
People are living longer these days and retiring abruptly at age 65 no longer makes sense for many. We showcased this workshop as a golden opportunity to step away from the 9-to-5 world for a half-day and begin to explore how they might segue from full-time job to part-time freelance gig, doing work they enjoy.
Our assumptions were tested and proven true. Peer-to-peer buzz throughout the workshop was off the charts. When we hit the finish line, many asked when we’d host our next workshop.
Workshop Wins, Lessons Learned & Gratitude
Okay, now it’s time to open our playbook and share more about how this one workshop boosted engagement, not only in Dayton, but beyond. I share this not to boast, but to enlighten, as you might consider hosting events like this yourself. I’ll also layer in a few lessons we learned along the way and thank a few key people who were instrumental in making this happen.
1. Partnering with a larger organization has its perks
No doubt, this partnership with UD amplified our own brand, taking it a notch higher in a region where we had little to no presence. Hosting this workshop on campus was a major plus and accelerated connections with people we’d never reach on our own. With that said, “If you build it, they will come” is unrealistic. While we earned attendees from this partnership, we soon realized the need to step up our own promotion to ensure a full house. Mission accomplished, but not without some blood, sweat, tears… and dollars. With that said, if we did an instant replay, we’re fairly certain we’d shave off time, effort, and dollars, given what we learned. That’s meaningful.
2. Divide & Conquer teamwork
We had a mighty team of four incredible people at UD who were advancing this workshop in different ways. Thank you Arianna, Julie, Anita and Ashley – we couldn’t have done this without you. While we were focused on workshop content design, delivery, and promotion, they tackled registration, onsite logistics, food & beverage, and a myriad of other details, including getting the word out to their communities. All in all, a fairly efficient way to tackle a semi-gargantuan task.
3. The power of short video invitations
While registrations trickled in daily, once we reached 40 people, registrations froze for a solid week. With quite a few more seats to fill, I decided to record a short video invitation to circulate on social channels. Donning my best UD garb, I recorded a 90-second video. We shared this via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, plus invested about $50 in advertising, targeting professionals age 50+ within driving distance of Dayton.
Now for the statistic that stunned us: More than 5,000 people watched that video for five or more seconds! We managed to fill the workshop room, but we also earned many more followers in the process. Thank you, Bernadette, my incredibly talented partner who also graduated from UD. You were the brains behind our video distribution strategy. I’m also fairly certain that if you were with me when I filmed this video, you would have fixed the lighting. NOTE TO SELF: Need to step up my video production game.
4. More amplification from our digital community
In September 2016, we launched Retirepreneur and we’ve been graced with a wonderful, go-giver community (individuals and organizations) who share our posts regularly. Friends like @CCRCLifeCast, who are serving this same audience and want to help. Years ago, workshop promotion would be far more taxing and costly. Today, as we help one another, good things happen. One caveat: Follow the golden rule. You need to be every bit as extra-mile in helping others and with no expectation of reciprocation. Do that and you’ll be amazed at what happens next.
5. Local expert speakers are a strong attendance draw
Vince Lewis, Director of UD’s Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership delivered our keynote and this audience was riveted. Then he invited Scott Koorndyk, President at The Entrepreneur Center and Scott Murphy, Vice President at the Downtown Dayton Partnership to join him for a closer look at the Arcade Innovation Hub, a future mixed-use space in Downtown Dayton designed to foster more collaborative exchanges among entrepreneurial thought leaders, start-up companies, and venture capital & angel investors. Our workshop tribe included several who were thinking about encore consulting gigs and this hub could potentially connect them with start-ups in need of their expertise. Many thanks to Vince, Scott and Scott for their support.
5. Stay laser-focused on serving your audience the experiences they crave
While solving this challenge in a single morning wouldn’t be possible, we made good headway at helping this crowd imagine a few “what if?” possibilities. We also featured insights and stories from fellow alumni (Thank you Kathleen Carlson & Todd Smith) and gave participants opportunities to engage in small group discussion with one another.
6. Opportunities to partner with others
Through this workshop pilot, our community has experienced rapid growth. More visits to our website, more “likes” on social channels, and more subscribers to our newsletter. Even better, a few invitations to partner with others to host similar workshops in the future.
To be honest, this endeavor took more time, energy and resources that I anticipated. Keep in mind, I’m still running a full-time consulting practice, but starting to dial that down to make room for more Retirepreneur pursuits like this. For this workshop, there were many late nights and weekends when I’d wonder, “Is it worth it?”
Now, I can confidently say, YES. The conversations I’m having now are more fruitful than the ones I had before this workshop. With one “proof point” completed, I also recognize there’s far more road to cover. Look out 2018 – we’re doubling down our bet to help this community learn, grow, and accomplish something remarkable together.
PS: If you know of a university or college in your area who might be interested in hosting a workshop like this, please let us know. Thanks so much!