Everyone remembers their first day at school; the ill-fitting uniform, the oversized rucksacks, the curious flutters of nerves mixed with excitement, the… face masks?
As the education system slowly adapts to the “new normal”, digital tech and virtual reality have become vital substitutes for in-person experiences – and school open days are no exception. But, understandably, many headteachers are left scratching their heads wondering how to channel the magic of their school through a laptop screen.
Fortunately, to help guide you, our team of experts are on hand with their top five tips for creating an unforgettable virtual open day tour.
Build the tour around your key messages
No one knows what makes your school unique better than you, but it’s still important to take some time to dig deep into what sets you apart from all the rest. Have you got an outstanding track record when it comes to exams? Does your SEN support team go above and beyond? Do you have one particular department that is renowned for excellence? Of course, you may answer “yes” to all these questions, but it’s important to narrow your focus down to the top areas where you are the very best.
Once you have this clearly defined, it becomes much easier to map out the route of your virtual tour in a way that really captures the essence of who you are. For example, if you pride yourselves on offering more extra-curricular activities than any other school in your borough, then your tour should allocate extra time for showing the wide range of equipment and facilities available. Alternatively, if you have an incredible, award-winning music department, why not begin your tour with a mini concert recital?
When it comes to virtual tours, it can be easy to get lost in the endless possibilities available. But, remember, you don’t want to try to be too many things to too many people; pick the top areas where you truly excel and plan your tour around the best ways to showcase them.
Zoom in on the details
Gone are the pre-COVID open days where parents, students and teachers would shuffle past each other in crowded corridors, trying to get a front-row seat for the headteacher’s welcome speech. Using virtual tours not only allows attendees the freedom to peruse your campus at their leisure, but it also helps international students (who may be geographically or financially unable to visit) to enjoy the same window into your campus as everyone else.
But with this slower pace, it’s also worth remembering that everything you do choose to show will attract closer inspection. Of course, every headteacher spends the lead up to open days making sure the classrooms look clean, welcoming and fully supplied, but have you paid attention to the smaller details? Don’t forget to check your noticeboards are all up-to-date and make sure everything looks COVID-secure.
And that same attention-to-detail goes for the virtual tour technology itself. If you’re self-producing the tour, make sure you invest in first-rate microphones and audio-visual equipment. If not, recognise your limitations and consider whether it’s time to bring in professionals. It sounds obvious but it’s worth reiterating: the little things matter. If you’re not willing to invest in the best, then it’s less likely that students and parents will choose to invest in you. So, put your best foot forward and make sure every detail is professional, polished and intentional.
Be inclusive and accommodating
Virtual tours offer a fantastic opportunity for those who may struggle with physical or mobility impairments to engage with your open day at a time and location that is convenient for them – free from the crowds. But for those who struggle with auditory or sight impairments, online tours can actually create new barriers for accessibility if they are not done correctly.
By adding in guided audio narration, you will not only add a touch of human connection to your tours, but you will also help those with visual impairments to visualise the environment that your students are learning in. Likewise, by including closed captioning for those who are hard of hearing, you can ensure they don’t miss a second of important information.
These kinds of tweaks do not break the bank, but the message they send about your school is priceless: inclusivity. And if you show you are accommodating of a wide range of needs, then people will feel safer about trusting you with their futures.
Add a human touch
Of course, without the throngs of prospective students and their parents, many headteachers are worried that a tour of their empty school on a computer screen may come across as a bit “cold” or “unexciting”. And that’s understandable – in a world of immediate gratification, where attention spans are at an all-time low, you can’t just expect people’s attention anymore, you have to pro-actively reach out and grab it.
Remember, people connect to stories, values and people – not institutions. Don’t just describe the wide range of supplies your art department has, ask some students to show off the canvases they’ve painted. Don’t just wax lyrical about your outstanding pastoral care, introduce parents to the team who will be safeguarding their children. It’s the age-old rule: show, don’t tell.
Whether it’s peppering cutaway video interviews and success stories throughout your tour or simply adding an audio guide, these little touches of human connection will make viewers forget they’re looking at a 2D monitor. In fact, even just including 360-degree, panoramic footage of your students enjoying lunchtime, rather than an empty lunch hall, will help viewers fully immerse themselves in the hustle and bustle of everyday school life.
Neuroscience shows that the bulk of human decision-making takes place in our emotional brain, not our rational brain, so piquing your attendee’s emotions – especially curiosity – is key to winning them over. And, with VR and augmented reality technology constantly evolving beyond headsets and video games, there are many exciting innovations that will give your open day that extra “wow factor”.
Take the use of visual callouts for example. This is a nifty little feature where, when an object or area is clicked, a pop-up window of additional information is revealed, in the form of text, image or video. A great advantage of visual callouts is that they not only prevent “tour fatigue” by increasing engagement, they also give viewers the freedom and autonomy to interact with whatever aspect of their surroundings intrigues them the most.
Visual callouts are just one resource at your disposal, but there are so many more. Combine a wide range of tools, like drone footage, interactive Q&A buttons and live chat windows, and you will ensure your tour has just enough variety to keep your viewers engaged.
That mysterious “gut instinct”
As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Parents may not remember the finer details from your speeches, or the stats surrounding your grade point averages, but what they will remember is how you made them feel on the day. It’s unquantifiable and even harder to describe, but we all know what it means to have a good “gut feeling” about somewhere. It’s that sense of inner certainty that you will be safe, cared for and empowered to be the best you can be. So, if your virtual tour taps into that feeling, you will be far more likely to turn a potential student’s open day into their first day.
At YourTour, we have a dedicated team of experts in virtual technology and user interactivity who will provide you with the tools and resources you need to create an unforgettable digital open day. To learn more about the range of unique features we offer, please get in touch – we’d be more than happy to help.