About a month ago, university leaders around the world received their most feared phone call of the year.
No – not the one conveying the news that their annual salary details had been published in Times Higher Education; or that the results of the teaching excellence framework were out. Rather, it was the head of university PR, informing them that it was time to make their Christmas message video.
“It’s a great idea – and we’ll be sure to make sure it absolutely isn’t cheesy and awkward.”
It’s important to get it right. It helps if you have a Nobel prizewinning physicist as your vice-chancellor – particularly if he has a sense of humour and is happy to pay homage to Bob Dylan (or is it Love Actually) for his festive offering. Step forward Brian Schmidt, head of the Australian National University.
If you don’t have a Nobel laureate to hand, you’re going to need some props. Choosing the correct hat is absolutely essential, as The Open University vice-chancellor Peter Horrocks demonstrates in these outtakes.
So – which hat did Mr Horrocks go for in the end?
A good call. A hat is not always necessary.
When it comes to shooting the video itself, make sure you get nice and close to the camera so that people can really hear what you’ve got to say. Alan Shaver, president and vice-chancellor of Thompson Rivers University, expertly demonstrates this technique in his festive message.
You’ll also need to make sure that you have the right music. It helps if you can provide your own – as in this not-at-all-unusual animated Christmas message from Loyola Marymount University. The description on YouTube makes clear that the track used was “composed, arranged, performed, produced, mixed, and mastered” by LMU President Timothy Law Snyder.
The above video was narrated by Carol Costello, “first lady of LMU” – a job title not used in the UK, but which is relatively widespread in the US. It means that you are married to the president. There are many “first gentlemen” too.
Another university head providing his own backing track is University of Illinois System president Tim Killeen, who, we learn in this idyllic Christmas video, loves “picking up my guitar at the end of the day to work through a difficult piece”.
If you don't write your own, then carols are your go-to solution when it comes to music. If you can get involved in singing them, all the better. Chris Domes, president of Neumann University, and his wife Mary demonstrate how to do it well in their video.
Students are also a good source of music. The University of Otago’s video sees vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne chatting with Mia Sohnge, a first-year student who sings her own arrangement of The First Noel. The interview format gets you out of those awkward “speaking down the lens of a camera” moments.
You could also enlist your university brass band to play a seasonal tune, and get your students involved too. This will give you the opportunity to keep your Christmas message incredibly brief – as demonstrated by University of Bristol vice-chancellor Hugh Brady, and chancellor Sir Paul Nurse (blink and you’ll miss them).
If you’re really clever, and employ some rousing music and high production values, you can even get away with saying absolutely nothing at all and only appearing in the video for five seconds. This video – “Happy Holidays from Chancellor Carol L. Folt” – is a textbook example from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
If all else fails, though, read the Christmas story. Campbell University president, J. Bradley Creed, reads the Christmas story from Luke 2:1-20, before signing off with that well-known seasonal exclamation: “Merry Christmas, and GO CAMELS!”