Right now, it can feel exceedingly difficult to convince communities to engage on the topic of sexual violence prevention. And it was never necessarily easy before. Accounting for the needs of compliance-based education that tackles an already stressful concept, prevention education efforts often struggle to produce engagement let alone measured change. Piling on, this task now exists in an overwhelmingly stressful world, virtual fatigue has set in, and regulations are changing at a rapid clip.

This makes attracting an eager audience a challenge. With many existing partners, it has not been uncommon to see attendance at “mandatory” first-year trainings where we could usually anticipate about 80-90% of their incoming population to dwindle to sometimes as little as 5-10% of the audience size. Increasingly, it feels like there are few other recourses for how we might attract a meaningful number of attendees comparative to community size.

Prevention doesn’t stop though. Whether from a need to ensure that our populations understand recently changed Title IX policies to the actual value and immediacy that stems from this issue. We are still deciphering how much incidents of domestic violence have increased during shelter-in-place orders. There are also untold implications for undergraduates learning from home such as their inability to create distance between past unhealthy relationships. And there is a growing concern about a lack of reporting due to institution policies that prioritize contact tracing over survivor support. 

The issue, as always, feels massive, yet, it demands attention.

What are we as prevention professionals, or semi-prevention professionals for all those overseeing these tasks in the “other duties as assigned” category, to do when faced with the dips in attendance, shifting institutional priorities, and well, gestures around wildly, society. 

The first step is one that pains me as an often keynote speaker: We must stop programming the way we used to program. Old methods no longer work. It is rare that another one-hour virtual presentation is going to feel compelling to an audience who just sat through a day of countless virtual presentations in addition to whatever is going on in their background surroundings.

Too often I see virtual presentations that lean into the presentation aspect. The hard fact is that Title IX presentations were generally already underwhelming to our students before this and putting policies or definitions on slides and moving through them is now even more numbing to a majority of students. Educational efforts must evolve. 

(This is where I will add the caveat that you can create engaging virtual presentations. I’ve done it and managed to succeed with audiences but it took a shift of mindset, a change of tools utilized, a modification in presentation style, and a transformation to the time I was asking students to commit.)

Make no mistake. You can still get students to engage around these issues. I am not pretending this is some type of hellscape where no one is listening. What I did find through many of my sessions though is that the willing attendees already had some kind of buy-in.

This is a far cry from reaching the general public or masses we need to; especially those already showing an aversion to prevention education.

Right now effective prevention means doing less.

No more long virtual calls. Challenge how much time a prevention-based education workshop can last. Can you educate in 15-minutes? How about 10? The obvious question here is how does that slot into your schedule or the schedules of your populations? Well, we have to stop thinking in calendar invites and planned, live programs. 

Instead of a single hour-long session, why not produce a 10-video series where each video lasts no more than five minutes but each covers pertinent topics for students ranging from healthy virtual relationships to survivor support resources for individuals in potentially unsafe home environments to addressing how relationships might transform for students still intertwined with their high school communities? 

Even more, with these videos, how can we distribute them in a creative manner? Hosting them on a website with easy access is vital, but can we also tap student influencers or campus figures with large social followings to share these with their existing networks? 

Conversely are there ways to tap into existing seminars or classes? If your campus has some form of First-Year Seminar, is it possible to get in front of all of those sessions for 5 to 10 minutes at the start of a course? That might seem a lot with the number of these seminars taking place which is why I encourage the prerecorded route or providing seminar instructors with scripts, slides, and discussion questions. (I’ve helped three campuses now design precisely these type of resources to great success.)

With a few campus partner, we’ve seen great success in training their Peer Educators to facilitate much quicker 10 to 15 minute modules that are designed to slot into existing student organization meetings and events. By reducing the amount of content that Peer Educators are asked to learn and also reducing the time it takes to deploy, it has become easier to secure commitments from student organizations.

From shorter sessions to smaller audiences, I acknowledge this might mean more mean more work occurs in the set up, but I’ve seen greater yields on engagement during these micro-sessions. This approach also allows you to cater to more targeted populations.

By honing in on the groups and populations we are supporting, it allows for a more nuanced approach and conversations about topics that our students might find more engaging. 

In planning these events, tie asynchronous micro-events to longer, live events. 

Schedules have shifted, background distractions have grown, attention spans wane, and the time zones of attendees have multiplied. It is not uncommon to witness students who are taking on extra responsibilities to support families who are also three-hours, or more, apart from us. 

The best way to remedy this is ensuring a bulk of our education can exist outside of time constraints; those previously mentioned prerecorded bits of education. For maximum effort, make sure this series ties into a larger event that takes place at some definitive point on the calendar. 

Think of launching a video series around a group of topics that culminate in a live panel where students can ask questions they have about the content with the experts from the pre-recorded videos.

This highlights the next shift; the priority of recording everything. 

Adopting a mentality of recording everything requires a shift in how we are designing our training sessions. If you must conduct an hour-long Title IX training, redesign the training with clear topical divides for your content, activities, and slides. By building out curricula with clear sections, it makes it easier to produce micro-content for later use. 

I’ve used this to great effect. For one campus partner, I led a student affairs team through a planning session regarding virtual prevention. Due to constraints, a number of upper level administrators who coincidentally had access to the most resources and largest say could not attend. 

Sending these absent attendees a 1.5 hour webinar is a surefire way to get ignored. Instead, I cut it up into snippets for the client. Each video came with a title slide, a clear name, learning objectives, and an end slide with main points summarized. 

It is much easier to send one pertinent clip of information to a busy colleague than it is to ask them to sit through the entire webinar and pull out the bits of knowledge that are relevant.

This approach also means rewriting our curriculum to be time agnostic. It is a simple thing, but removing references to dates from our events is a great way to generate evergreen content. 

(All of this goes without saying recording must be professional quality and when we do conduct virtual events, we need to focus on using tools for engagement to make these programs as compelling as possible for the audience. Having led virtual training sessions for over 30 campuses at this point, I’d love to help you if you want some suggestions on how to best use tools in your virtual programs.)

Some of the last pieces I’ve seen to be more effective are to shift our goals and the topics being addressed. 

Sexual violence prevention is a serious issue and deserves a serious conversation. But, and this is a caveat, in prevention-based programming research has found that an over reliance on negative emotions is detrimental to long-term learning.

Yes, we need to address the reality of the topic. We can still host events that focus on topics like what a healthy relationship looks like or how consent can go well. Focusing on the positive, especially in skill-development, can offer a respite in an already doom & gloom filled world. This is not underplaying the issue. It is merely a different way of addressing it.

Setting up a primary prevention campaign is already difficult enough, and that is without the considerations of how you might navigate shifts at the last moment.

I intimately understand how frustrating it is for best laid plans to fizzle the day before all the hard work. Where some of that stress cannot be avoided, I hope that these tips were insightful.

And I am here to help. If you need help planning a primary prevention program that better meets the current reality of our world, I’d love to talk.

Feel free to schedule a time and we can chat about any of your frustrations, needs, or the big ideas that you want to run by someone to make sure that they will work.