Making Your Message Meaningful

Bringing together the key players on campus, brainstorming creative themes and gimmicks, and taking advantage of the national media that will be available during October are all key items to the success of NCAAW on your campus. But the heart and soul of NCAAW are the educational programs that you will conduct on your campus during the observance! These offer your best opportunity to create change in the individuals and the environment on your campus.

What’s the perfect amount of programming? The answer is different campus to campus. Much of that depends on what types of programs people have proven willing to attend, the size of your school, the amount of residential students versus off-campus students, the amount of money you can gather from co-sponsorships, and so on.

Many schools like to sponsor a program each day during NCAAW. For some, that’s too many. Instead, these programmers focus their energy on doing two or three well-planned events. Other campuses try to offer several programming options every day, taking place in different locations in order to make it as easy as possible for people to attend. Plan accordingly, based on your campus environment, the amount of help you have to implement your programs, and the budget available to adequately market and prepare each of these sessions.

Here are five key suggestions for your group to consider as you plan your programming schedule.

  1. Balance educational and social programs.
    One of your goals is to teach people some new information about personal health issues and responsible decision-making. One of your goals is to get people to look at personal behaviors and offer opportunities for people to choose healthy lifestyles - lifestyles grounded in moderation and the acceptance of personal responsibility for actions. It is also important to give people a chance to have a good time, meet new people, dance, laugh and enjoy themselves - maybe without the use of alcohol. For some of our students, this will be a new experience! The best type of NCAAW programming mixes serious information with plain old- fashioned fun. Make sure that your programs serve a variety of goals, from offering social alternatives, to providing hardcore education, to simply getting people to think about an issue in a creative, unexpected way.

  2. Don’t fall for the “numbers” game.
    We all want our educational and social programming to be big hits. We want lots of people to come and we want the whole campus to go to at least one of our events. Who knows, they might! However, your efforts cannot be judged solely on “how many people showed up.” Some of your programs, especially those dealing with serious educational sessions, like “Adult Children of Alcoholics” or “Preventing Date Rape” might only draw 20-30 people. But those 20-30 people will really want to be there, and those 20-30 people will be happy that you planned this event for them. So, as you are planning your programs you might want to keep three important things in mind.

    Go to where your audience is. Don’t make them come to you.

    It is so much easier for people to attend a program “on their own turf.” Program in residence halls, in Greek houses, in the off-campus student lounge. Maybe you want to take your programs to local hangouts! Host events outside in high traffic areas. Here’s a new idea. Have students host programs in their rooms! If 10 people come to a session, you can throw pillows on the floor, make some microwave popcorn and suddenly your program is packed! Not only that, people can talk easier and will feel more comfortable in this environment.

    Don’t be afraid to plan social programs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Granted, your NCAAW dance on Friday night may not be the hottest event happening all weekend, and maybe hundreds of people won’t show up, but you’ve just done a great thing. You’ve provided a choice for those students who want to have a great time on the weekend, but didn’t want to go to the bars or off-campus parties.

    And finally, set reasonable expectations, and plan your space appropriately. Having 40 people at a dance can make for a great party! But remember that 40 people in a smaller room will be more fun than 40 people in a gymnasium. Set reasonable expectations. If they are exceeded, great! You’ll know to plan for a bigger turnout next year. Students don’t mind cozy (even cramped!) settings, so make sure your space is appropriate for a modest turnout at any event. You are doing wonderful things in planning your NCAAW events. Don’t fall for the numbers game!

  3. Some people like to get information, but don’t want to have to “talk to anybody” at this time.
    Despite what we sometimes think, there are still many people who don’t know enough information about how alcohol works, what addiction is, how to help someone they care about who may have a drinking problem, family issues, etc. Those people are curious about these issues, but perhaps are not ready to talk to a campus counselor or peer educator.

    In order to meet their needs, try to have places where people can pick up the information they need. Set up display tables in the student union or dining hall full of pamphlets and other educational resources that people can take. Set up a VCR at a high visibility location, turn it on, and let it run for an afternoon showing an informative tape on addiction or helping a friend. For those people who want to get really creative, hook up an answering machine to a campus extension and leave educational messages. Have a special “This week only” hotline that people can call to ask their questions about alcohol. Send e-mail messages to everyone on the campus computer mainframe. Get creative!

    Even though people might not want to talk with someone at this time, we still want to make sure they know there are places on campus they can go if they do want to talk with someone later. NCAAW is a great time to advertise services that are available all year! List the extension of the counseling center or peer education office on all the materials you hand out or post.

  4. Sometimes educational “teasers” cause the best discussion.
    What’s an educational teaser? The good example of a teaser is what you see at the movies for previews. For example, last summer’s blockbuster, Independence Day, was promoted long before the release of the film. Each preview gave you a little more information, a little more imagery like The White House being blown up, that made you curious to know more about the film. Because the previews created curiosity to know what was behind a force that could destroy The White House and make us “fight back,” Independence Day became one of the most popular movies of the summer.

    We can do the same thing with educational messages. Many campuses have used the “Green Bean Campaign” to create a “Ghost” effect. If you are not aware of the program - it is very simple. A set of 4 posters is made, with the second one replacing the first, the third replacing the second, etc. The key, however, is the first poster. The entire poster is a giant green bean, and nothing else is on the poster except for the words Green Bean. Hang these posters all over campus (if you really want to have fun, have people carry cans of green beans as well) and let them stay up for three or four days. People lose their minds trying to figure out what all these green bean messages are doing on campus!

    Everyone is talking about it and no one knows the answer (except you, of course). The next poster is a cartoon or photo of cans of green beans hooked together like a six-pack. The caption reads “How many green beans does it take to have a good time?” The third poster is a cartoon or photo of a person holding a can of green beans with a caption that reads “If you knew someone who couldn’t talk, couldn’t laugh, dance or have fun unless they ate a few green beans, would that concern you?” And the last poster simply reads, “If you could talk to a friend about a green bean problem, could you talk to them about an alcohol problem?” A list of campus phone numbers for a counseling center, etc. are then provided.

    Brainstorm some more of these educational teasers. The key is to raise awareness and get people talking - and that’s certainly what happens!

  5. You don’t have to be the expert, and you don’t have to do all of these programs yourself.
    Use your resources!

    We talked in the previous chapter about co-programming and co-sponsoring with other campus organizations, and this is an excellent idea. Another variation on this theme is to find out who the resources are in your campus and community who can help with, or even present programs for you. You don’t have to be the expert on every single student health issue. How could you be? Still, this shouldn’t keep you from presenting programs or handing out information on these topics.

Brainstorm Ideas and Titles for Your Programs

What events are you going to do? What are some ideas for social and fun programming and for educational sessions? If you know what issues you want to cover, what might be some interesting titles for these events to get people to attend?

Here are some ideas for brainstorming programs.
Start by using the alphabet.
Go around the room and starting with the letter “A” create five program titles.
Write them down:
Adult Children of Alcoholics, Appetizers From Around the World (social), Alcohol and Relationships, A Woman’s Story (rape education) and Acupuncture.
Remember, when you are brainstorming, there is no such thing as a bad idea!
After you get A-Z finished, go back and decide which ones are workable, and which ones you should drop.

Use popular movies and popular songs. People identify with what’s current. So go through the movie list and see if there’s anything that applies. You may want to do a program called “It’s Not a Mission Impossible - Alcohol Responsibility!” then have your programs board show the popular Summer of ’96 movie, Mission Impossible. You can even play the song along with your public service announcements announcing your NCAAW events. Who knows? Keep brainstorming!

Know Your Local Resources

It helps to know “what’s already out there.” It’s not always necessary to start our programming schedule from scratch. Often we feel like we have to be the expert on every topic we want to include in our alcohol awareness week program. Of course, we cannot be experts on so many issues! You may want to make a chart like the one listed below to help you find what resources and speakers are already out there.

Women's Issues    
Impaired Driving    
Legal Liability    
Alcohol and the Athlete    

We have just listed a few, but you can probably come up with 40-50 issues that have to do with student health or student leadership. Find out what your health center has, what your counseling center has, etc., in terms of available posters, pamphlets and videos. Who on campus can speak on these topics? What about in the community?

Are there other special observances going on during this time? If there is an October arts festival of some sort in your town or city, maybe you could sponsor a booth, for example. If you have Homecoming in October, is there some way to tie into that activity? Remember that NCAAW does not have to exist in a vacuum or stand completely independent from all other campus activities.