Chantal Goldsworthy, former Student Ambassador Manager from University of Gloucestershire, discusses how student ambassadors can share their own personal stories to enhance visitor connection and allow prospective students to imagine what their life at University might look like.
What is it about a story? Well let me tell you one. Once upon a time our Student Ambassadors used to sign up for work and get paid. They would be provided with a script by the many places on campus that they showed to visitors and give out all the facts and details they could remember. The library wanted them to remember all their important details, the Student Union too. The Helpzone, the gym, the academic schools, the refectory all clamoured for them to dish out the facts relevant to their area.
Before long visitors realised they were hearing the same kind of information at every university they visited. Meanwhile our Student Ambassadors realised that people weren’t really very engaged with their campus tours or talks and besides, they were bored of giving them. And that is when everything changed!
We introduced storytelling training and suddenly the talks and the tours came alive! The personal stories that the Student Ambassadors shared about their life at university helped visitors to connect with them and start to imagine what their life there might look like. They shared stories such as the time they shared pizza with their new flatmates in the library whilst trying to meet their first deadline and how it helped them overcome their homesickness or the moment a new, anxious international student was made to feel welcome and at home when the lady in refectory treated her to her first lunch as she hadn’t yet sorted our her bank card (and they couldn’t accept cash because of the pandemic).
Every Ambassador had stories to tell. They no longer needed to ‘tell’ people things like “the support staff are really helpful” because that was obvious from the stories they were telling. They didn’t need to say “you should join a society” because the visitors felt inspired to do so because of the exciting and fun things they were hearing. The stories were authentic, honest and our prospective students could see that they were being told by people just like them. They saw that they were also once anxious about starting University, or were homesick or didn’t think they were academic. They realised that they also once didn’t know how to ‘reference’ or work the washing machine! All of these things helped them to feel as though they could belong and maybe they too would someday be a Student Ambassador with this level of confidence and ability.
The science of storytelling is based on our hormones. Cortisol focuses our attention and gives the greatest chance of people listening and being inspired by a story. Oxytocin boosts empathy and this is what can help prospective students envisage themselves in the same place and living a similar lifestyle. Neural coupling increases connection between the storyteller and their audience and dopamine aids memory, helping visitors remember the experience long after they have left the university.
Of course, our Student Ambassadors still mention the most important details and are encouraged to signpost visitors to other staff or their website if they need to. The best thing is that they now enjoying giving the tours and talks, their audience are more engaged and, even better, are connecting with them, remembering the stories and feel like this is a place they want to be.
If you have any questions, or wish to discuss additional ways of how to support your Ambassadors through story telling, please contact Chantal on firstname.lastname@example.org.